Vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical advance in history. They have eliminated diseases such as polio and smallpox, which once caused serious illness or death in large numbers of people.
Getting vaccinated against certain diseases is known as immunization, and it’s still one of the best tools for fighting both new and existing infectious diseases. Here’s what you should know about the importance of immunization.
How vaccines work
Vaccines provide biological information to your immune system, giving instructions on how to create antibodies that protect you from diseases. It’s much safer for your immune system to develop this ability from vaccination than by catching a disease and your immune system “learning” to fight it. Once your immune system is able to fight a disease, it may provide protection for many years.
Protection for those at risk
People who are elderly, have a serious illness, or have a weakened immune system usually can’t get vaccinated. Children must reach a certain age before they can be vaccinated for certain diseases. These unvaccinated members of the community are at risk for some infectious diseases and should avoid exposure.
However, if enough people are vaccinated, it limits the ability of a disease to spread to people who cannot receive vaccines. Widespread immunization that helps protect an entire community or population is sometimes called “herd immunity” or “population immunity.”
Vaccines are for everyone
Due to travel, occupation, and other factors, people of all ages have different levels of exposure and risk for various infectious diseases. However, there are certain diseases that the human body’s immune system can’t successfully fight on its own. That means everyone is at risk. Immunization remains the best measure of protection against such diseases. Your primary care doctor can help you stay on schedule for vaccines. Click here for an immunization schedule for adults age 19 and up.
Get your travel shots
If you are traveling to another country, it’s a good idea to get the needed vaccines well in advance. You may need several weeks to get all doses of the vaccine, and your doctor may not stock every vaccine needed for travel to certain parts of the world. Get vaccinated at least a month before you travel, so your body has time to build up immunity. UAB Travel Medicine offers pre-travel vaccinations and related services for travelers. Click here to learn more.
Growing up with vaccines
Young children are exposed to germs through the food they eat, the air they breathe, and things they put in their mouth. An infant’s immune system can fight most germs but not all diseases. That’s why infants need vaccines to strengthen their immune system. Vaccines use very small amounts of antigens to help your child’s immune system recognize and fight serious diseases. Antigens are parts of germs that cause the immune system to act.
Well-child visits and recommended vaccinations are essential in helping children stay healthy. Children who are not protected by vaccines are more likely to get diseases like measles and whooping cough. These diseases are extremely contagious and can be very serious, especially for babies and young children.
As they get older, children will need specific vaccines at certain times. Pediatricians can help parents understand this schedule and make sure that children get the right vaccinations at the right times.
Click here to see a vaccination schedule for infants and children up to age 6, or click here for children age 7-18.
SOURCE: National Institutes of Health