Wold Immunization Week is almost over, but it’s not too late to get vaccinated. After all, it is one of the single most important things you can do for your health. Vaccines are responsible for rendering diseases that once infected hundreds of thousands of people impotent. They are a marvel of human ingenuity.
The benefits of vaccines are well-documented. According to the National Institutes of Health, both smallpox, diphtheria and polio have been eradicated from the United States after a vaccine was developed and made widely available. Other diseases, like measles, mumps and rubella, have been nearly banished from the country. Prior to a vaccine being developed, each of these diseases infected at least tens of thousands of people each year. In the case of measles, over 500,000 people in the United States would become infected. In 2009, that number was down to 71.
It’s true, though, that not all people can get vaccinated. The very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems can’t get vaccinated. But that means that it’s all the more important for everyone who can get vaccinated, does get vaccinated.
There is this thing called herd or community immunity. It’s a pretty simple concept. If no one or not enough people are vaccinated against a disease, the easier it is for an outbreak to occur. If enough people are vaccinated, it stops the outbreak in its tracks. This protects those who can’t get vaccinated.
Stopping an infection is much less expensive than treating one. According to a 2005 study, for every dollar spent on childhood vaccinations, five dollars in direct costs were saved.
The benefits of childhood immunization are clear, and when someone mentions vaccination it’s easy to think only of children. But it’s actually incredibly important for teens and adults to be up-to-date on their immunizations, as well. That’s what this year’s World Immunization Day’s theme — “Are You Up-to-Date? — aims to promote. Some diseases the Centers for Disease Control recommend adults keep up-to-date on are seasonal flu, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, among others. The CDC also provides a handy vaccine schedule for children, teens and adults.
The whooping cough vaccine, or Tdap, has become increasingly important to stay up on in recent years. Every adult should get a Tdap jab if they didn’t have one as a child or adolescent, and then every 10 years after. But the reason it’s so important is because unfounded and debunked fears of vaccines have caused parents to refuse immunization. In turn, it is one of the factors causing whooping cough to come back and infect young children, sometimes leading to untimely deaths.
Remember herd immunity that I mentioned earlier? When the vaccination rate gets too low, the community’s resistance to an outbreak is weakened. Whooping cough isn’t the only problem. A new CDC report says that the first four months of 2014 have been the worst in terms of measles cases since 1996.
Both whooping cough and measles are contagious diseases that can significantly harm children. Luckily, these are also preventable diseases. There is no reason why we need to go back to the days high infant mortality. We have the means — safe, effective and economical means — of making lives better for everyone. You can help with that by getting your Tdap booster.
Photo Credit: U.S. Army Corp of Engineers via Flickr
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