Vaccinations are one of the most important contributions to public health and have helped the human civilization battle epidemic and endemic diseases. Smallpox and measles are two primary examples of diseases that took away the lives of millions until vaccination was introduced. Since then society has achieved total eradication of smallpox and brought the spread of measles under control through vaccination alone. Polio, which was widely prevalent is India, is a more recent example of a disease that has been brought under control through vaccination and is on its way to extinction.
While there is a long way to go and research is underway to examine the scope of vaccination to halt major diseases of today like cancer and AIDs, childhood and adult vaccinations to prevent diseases such as Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Influenza, Chickenpox, Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, among many others are widely used today.
Myth #1: Giving my child a vaccination will make them fall ill
Fact: A vaccination contains a very washed down, dilute or inactive strain of the disease causing virus. The purpose of the vaccine is to nudge the child’s immune system into producing the antibodies required to defend the body against the virus. Sometimes the child may develop a reaction from the body such as a mild fever but this is temporary and a normal reaction. The virus is not strong enough to cause a full blown disease in the person.
Myth #2: My child will develop immunity through natural methods
Fact: Building one’s immune system comprises of many other factors such as genetic make-up, healthy diet, active lifestyle, good living environment, etc and vaccinations form a part of this system. Vaccinations will help your child build immunity against some of the more common and dangerous strains of viruses prevalent today. This is not to say that your child will not be able to produce antibodies to fight the disease should it strike them someday.
Myth #3: My child will be able to battle the disease when it comes
Fact: Vaccinations are just a way to safeguard oneself from the virus and prevent having to endure the trauma and pain of battling the disease. A child who has had a chickenpox vaccine has far less risk of contracting chickenpox and going through the entire course of the disease (sometimes the child has to miss out a significant portion of their developmental period to heal from chickenpox, for eg missing a year of school) that a child who hasn’t.
Myth #4: There is no danger from these diseases anymore
Fact: Vaccination has the potential to completely eradicate a disease as in the example of small-pox. Once the disease is completely eradicated and this has been recognized globally, only then is it advisable to ignore a vaccine. Until then, it is the responsibility of society at large to help prevent the disease’s progression onto the next generation. Vaccination is an extremely effective way of doing this.
Myth #5: I don’t need a vaccination once I have grown up
Fact: Although many adults avoid vaccinations, it is advisable to go for regular follow ups or booster shots for tetanus, diphtheria, Hepatitis, meningitis etc. Depending on situations, age, health status etc, certain vaccines are recommended. For example, it is mandatory for people travelling to a place like Africa to take a shot for yellow fever or to take TB, typhoid shots before travelling to European countries etc. Older people are advised to take a pneumococcal vaccine as they are prone to developing pneumonia beyond the age of 60.
Sometimes people are not entirely aware of vaccinations and do not completely trust the benefits, however rest assured that all vaccinations recommended by doctors today, particularly for the newborn infant are well-tested for safety and efficacy through medical trials and testing before it is introduced to the market.
(Disclaimer: The writer is Dr Brunda M S, Consultant – Internal Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)