For Shruti and Rohan, not vaccinating their child had been a conscious decision. They were among that group of new-age couples who believed a child’s immunity needs to be built naturally. So they had over-ridden the Doctor’s advice. It was a decision that came back to haunt them when their 2-year-old son came down with a bad bout of diarhhoea accompanied by vomiting. When medications prescribed by their son’s paediatrician made no difference and he became unresponsive, the panicked couple rushed him to the Emergency. They were told their son was suffering from rotavirus, a common ailment in children that could be fatal. Rotavirus is a vaccine preventable disease.
Immunizations currently prevent 2 million to 3 million deaths every year. Yet, more than 1.5 million people worldwide die from vaccine-preventable diseases.
The terms immunization and vaccination are often used interchangeably, are they the same thing?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), immunization is the process whereby an individual is made immune to an infectious disease, typically by administrating a vaccine. Vaccines stimulate the body’s immunity to protect the person against subsequent infections or diseases.
An individual becomes immune to a disease when the body has been exposed to it either through illness or vaccination. The immune system develops antibodies to the disease so that it cannot make you sick again.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines help the immune system fight infections faster and more effectively. When you are vaccinated, it sparks the immune response, helping the body fight off and also remember the germ so that it can attack if the germ invades again. As vaccines are made of a small amount of dead or weak germs, they are unlikely to make you sick. Vaccines provide long-lasting immunity to certain diseases without the risk of serious side effects.
What is in a vaccine?
All the ingredients of a vaccine play an important role in ensuring a vaccine is safe and effective. Some of these include:
- The antigen – a killed or weakened form of a virus or bacteria that trains our bodies to recognize and fight diseases if we encounter those in the future
- Adjuvants that help boost immune responses
- Preservatives to ensure that a vaccine stays effective for the desired period
- Stabilizers that protect vaccines during storage and transportation
Vaccine ingredients may look unfamiliar when listed on the labels. Many of the components used occur in the environment, in our bodies, and in the food we eat. All the ingredients in vaccines – as well as the vaccines themselves – are thoroughly tested and monitored to ensure they are safe.
Which is safer: Natural immunity or immunity after getting a vaccine?
Vaccines are safer. Natural immunity develops after you have gotten sick with a disease. But diseases can be serious and even deadly. A vaccine protects from a disease before it you fall sick.
Herd Immunity: What Does it Mean?
When a high percentage of the population is vaccinated, it is difficult for infectious diseases to spread, because there are not many people who can be infected. For instance, if someone with measles is surrounded by people who also are vaccinated against the disease, measles cannot easily be passed on to those around. This is called ‘herd immunity’ and is also known as ‘community immunity’ or ‘herd protection’. It offers protection to vulnerable populations, such as newborns, elderly people, and those who are too sick and cannot be vaccinated.
Herd immunity, however, does not provide protection against all vaccine-preventable diseases. An example of this is tetanus, which spreads from bacteria found in the environment and not from people who suffer from the disease. In such a case, no matter how many individuals around you get vaccinated against the disease, it will not protect you until you get vaccinated.
What are the diseases vaccines can prevent?
Parents can protect their children from these 14 vaccine-preventable diseases before they are two years old:
- 1. Diphtheria
- 2. Hemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- 3. Hepatitis A
- 4. Hepatitis B
- 5. Influenza (flu)
- 6. Measles
- 7. Mumps
- 8. Pertussis (Whooping cough)
- 9. Pneumococcal disease
- 10. Polio
- 11. Rubella (German measles)
- 12. Tetanus (lockjaw)
- 13. Rotavirus
- 14. Varicella (chickenpox)
What vaccines do adults need?
Adults need to keep their vaccinations up to date because immunity from childhood vaccines can wear off with time. They are also at risk for different diseases. Vaccination is one of the safest and most convenient preventive care measures available.
The vaccines you need as an adult are determined by factors, including your age, lifestyle, health condition, and which vaccines you have already received during your life. As an adult, vaccines are generally recommended for protection against:
- Seasonal influenza (flu)
- Pertussis, also known as whooping cough
- Tetanus and diphtheria
- Pneumococcal diseases
Still have questions about vaccination. What should you do?
If you still have questions about vaccines, talk to your healthcare worker. He/she can provide you with evidence-based advice about vaccination for you and your children, including the recommended vaccination schedule prevalent in your country.