As a millennial myself, I have gone through an internal battle over health, healthcare, disease, wellness, exercise, and vaccination. Even while writing this article, I have had many comments from my friends revolving around their views of vaccines. In my personal experience, it's easy to miss the boat, and not be aware of vaccines that one is past due. I have also come across some people that feel vaccines are detrimental, unnatural, and just an added expense to make money. Have you ever taken a moment to clarify your position on vaccination? Are you up to date with your vaccines, or have you willfully avoided getting more? If you haven't yet determined where you stand, read over these facts, and then make your own decision.
Let's start with some context, to establish why vaccinations are important–by reviewing the history of Smallpox. As recently as the 1950s, there were about 50 million cases of smallpox in the world per year. Today, there are zero. There has not been a naturally occurring infection of smallpox since that of Rahima Banu in Bangladesh in 1975. As I was not alive during any smallpox outbreaks, I needed to do some research to learn more about the dreaded virus. Smallpox was a devastating disease that had spread throughout the world. One interesting difference between Smallpox and other serious illnesses is that Smallpox is only carried and transmitted by humans—this is the main reason that it was able to be completely eradicated. Throughout history, billions of people have died from Smallpox. Some examples of Smallpox devastation are the near complete destruction of natives in the Americas during settlement and conquest, as well as cyclical pandemics that ravaged the globe where 30% of the population would be wiped out within a short time-frame. We can all rejoice and be glad that Smallpox no longer exists. Since there are not any living carriers of the virus, and all cases in humans have been eradicated, this is not a virus that we still require vaccinations for.
Another major accomplishment of authorities across the globe is the near eradication of Polio except for some remaining cases in the Third World. Historically, the likelihood of a child surviving to adulthood was quite small, mostly due to disease. Now, in the U.S. at least, all infants are vaccinated for the most common fatal diseases during infancy, reducing infant and childhood mortality rates to unprecedentedly low levels. No longer do we need to fear the plagues of Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Polio, Smallpox, Yellow Fever, Malaria, and Diptheria. At least, not in the U.S., and not if all children are properly vaccinated. If not, anti-malaria tablets are available for traveling. We should be thankful that we have had dedicated efforts to enforce vaccination to protect our loved ones and us, as well as the resources to enable our health and well being. Many that are born in less developed countries still face the destruction and devastation of many of these diseases, leaving them scarred, disfigured, incapacitated, or dead.
I Don't Want to Get a Vaccine. Why Should I?
Hopefully, the information above has proven the usefulness of vaccines. As a child, you must receive many vaccines. Otherwise, you are not permitted to attend schools or participate in many activities. This is very reasonable, as one infected child can destroy a closed population, such as those who exist in a school environment. It's important to understand how diseases spread. A useful example and one without a cure is the terror that has gripped pregnant women around the world: Zika. Zika is mainly spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Once bitten, the virus circulates and replicates in the blood. An infected person, or carrier, is a walking disease. Zika carriers usually are not aware they have the virus, as only 1 in 5 people will show symptoms. When there are symptoms, they are usually mild and do not have a long-lasting effect.
Once infected, a virus remains with you for the rest of your life. You could be one of 4 out of 5 Zika victims, walking around as a chalice of disease, spreading Zika to countless other humans. All diseases are spread differently, but Zika is primarily through a bite. It can also be spread through sexual contact, blood contact with infected carriers, or from a mother to child when pregnant (but not through breastfeeding). Zika is a great example of something you can only try to prevent. Someone may be a carrier, and unaware, or you are bitten and become infected. Before you lock yourself inside, never to again leave your residence, remember that Zika is only a risk in certain countries, and not in the U.S. at the time being.
How Diseases and Immunity Work
What is immunity? Once you have been infected, if you live through the disease then your body will create antibodies. Antibodies are unique, created for specific diseases. For example, if you get the flu one year, you will develop an antibody. But, it's still likely that you will get the flu again the next year. Why? Because there are multiple strains of the influenza virus, which are always evolving and changing. Some things, like chicken pox, are one and done, for the most part. Once you have the virus, you become immune to catching it again. Each infectious disease will have a contagious period where you can infect others. Let's use chickenpox as an example again: once you are infected with the virus, you keep it for life. Many parents have intentionally infected their children with other infected children to get it over with. Once the symptoms reside and the children are healthy and pox-free, they are no longer infectious. After recovery, the virus becomes dormant and floats around.
HIV, on the other hand, works a bit differently. After initial infection with HIV, a stage of Acute Infection will develop, where the virus is explosively replicating and spreading throughout one's body. This is a highly infectious stage, with significant flu-like symptoms. Massive replication is done through the takeover and death of cells that are crucial to the immune system, drastically reducing their levels in the bloodstream. In response, the immune system will eventually recover and bring the cell count back up, when the virus moves into the Clinical Latency stage. On average, this stage is about ten years long, generally without symptoms. HIV is not considered dormant during this stage and is different than other viruses, which is why the term is latent. HIV is still active and reproducing during latency but at very low levels to ensure its survival. Eventually, the cell count will drop, and stage three will arrive: AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). AIDS refers to the stage where the immune system has been irreparably compromised, with untreated patients surviving about three years. Without a fully functional immune system, common illnesses such as pneumonia prove devastating and eventually fatal.
As a recap, diseases spread through infection, they are carried by those who are infected. Some diseases are viral and are spread between humans and or animals. This may be through airborne particles, infected doorknobs, bodily fluids, or even food. Other diseases are bacterial and can be spread similarly. Some diseases like Zika have no cure and no treatment. All diseases have stages and are particularly contagious when infected people show symptoms, as well as a few days before showing symptoms.
Once infected and recovered, most people will become immune to the disease and not be affected by it in the future. That is unless it is a virus like HIV that has a cycle leading to the death of the patient. We already have lots of risks that are not able to be adequately prevented or avoided, but for those that we can prevent through vaccination, why would one not take the opportunity to receive a vaccine? As a conscientious individual, being vaccinated is one way that you can serve others. If you are vaccinated, you will not be a source of infection as an unknowing carrier. An interesting side note is that newborns have immunity to many diseases since antibodies are carried over from their mother. However, this immunity is gone after the first year, as the antibodies are not the infant's and eventually leave the bloodstream.
Now that you are ready to be a prepared human and make sure that you are up to date with all of your vaccinations use this checklist as a resource to make sure that you and your family are adequately protected.
- Know your vaccinations (compile a list of all vaccines you have had, as well as the dates)
- Talk to your Primary Care Physician about Vaccinations
- See if you are overdue for any
- Make notes on your list of when you are due to any booster vaccines
- Be proactive
- there are many vaccines that we aren't automatically given, but that you can request, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hib (Haemophilus Influenzae type b), Meningococcal and Pneumococcal vaccines
- Immunization Schedule for children 0 through 6 Years of Age
- Immunization Schedules for Preteens and Teens
- Immunization Schedules for Adults
- Everyone should get the annual flu vaccine as the strains that are most common will always be different and evolving
- Check the news and CDC sites to see if new vaccines become available or recommended
- If you will travel outside of the United States, be sure to check with your doctor for additional vaccinations that you will need
- Vaccinations are Important! Get them!
Use this article as a resource as well as a reminder that disease is very real and alive, in and around us all, each and every day. Vaccination is a vital life resource that we are fortunate enough to have access to in this day and age. Use this wisdom to safeguard this life, which his already fleeting.
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