There has been no lack of discussion about vaccinations recently. While Hollywood stars have warned their fans against immunizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly sung the praises of drugs developed to protect people of all ages from sometimes deadly diseases.
“Vaccinations prevent diseases that can cause severe problems,” said Dr. Harriet Hansen of MUSC Physicians Primary Care, who is board-certified in Family Medicine and treats patients of all ages. “Vaccinations are one of the most important improvements in public health.”
For example, there is no cure for the once-dreaded polio, but, because of vaccinations, it is now rare. On the other hand, chickenpox and whooping cough can easily be prevented, but they are becoming more common in the United States because many people choose not to vaccinate.
“Controversial findings have heightened fears about the side effects of vaccines that had been used to prevent the spread of deadly diseases,” explained Dr. Jill Aiken of Sandlapper Pediatrics, a Roper St. Francis Physician Partners practice. “Parents became afraid that their children would end up with autism, and some TV personalities perpetuated this myth. It took a while for the media to realize these assertions were not based on reliable research.”
So what are immunizations? According to the CDC, vaccines contain the same germs that cause disease. For example, the measles vaccine contains the measles virus, which has been weakened to the point that it doesn’t make a person sick. A vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if someone was exposed to the disease. Once people are vaccinated, they develop immunity to the disease.
Most adults can remember that as children, they scratched those red welts that plagued them for days or even weeks. But their parents knew that once they recovered from chickenpox, they wouldn’t have to deal with it again. Or at least they thought they knew. In fact, if you had chickenpox as a child, you carry the varicella zoster virus and the possibility of shingles, a painful rash that can cause loss of vision. According to the CDC, a million Americans a year suffer from shingles. “When patients reach 60, they should get the shingles vaccine,” said Dr. Hansen. “Other routine adult vaccinations, like tetanus and TDAP (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) should be every 10 years.”
Vaccinations can prevent many diseases, including influenza, pneumococcal, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Each year, an average of 226,000 people are hospitalized with influenza, and between 3,000 and 49,000 die, according to the CDC. Probably the most well-known of all viruses, the u is a viral infection of the nose, throat and lungs. Older adults and those with certain health conditions are at high risk for serious complications. e vaccination, easily accessible at your neighborhood pharmacy, is covered by most insurance plans.
In 2012, there were approximately 32,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease, an illness caused by bacteria, with 3,300 of them leading to death, according to the CDC. Chronic hepatitis B affects 800,000 to 1.4 million people, with complications such as liver cancer. A blood-borne disease, its victims can suffer from flu-like symptoms. HPV causes about 17,000 cancers in women and about 9,000 cancers in men annually.
“It is important to get your child vaccinated with the HPV vaccine before age 11 or before their sexual debut because once he or she gets the virus, it is too late. Sexual debut encompasses any type of sexual activity,” Dr. Aiken explained. “This is a recommended vaccination. Parents make the final decision, and, as a doctor, I am your consultant.”
When children are young, it is easy for parents to get them to the pediatrician for their routine shots. However, as they get older, fewer adolescents get the appropriate vaccinations or boosters. Their activity schedules are busier and concerns about what are deemed to be childhood diseases are forgotten until they actually become ill.
Dr. Aiken pointed out that meningitis used to be a serious problem, but vaccinations in the United States have helped halt its spread.
“You would hear about it at colleges or other crowded living conditions such as Army barracks. Now we give a vaccine at their 11-year old booster, where before it was only given before heading off to college,” she said.
Side effects can occur with any medicine, including vaccinations, with the most common being a low-grade fever, rash or soreness around the injection site. According to the CDC, the risk of serious complications from a disease that could have been prevented by vaccination is far greater than the risk of a serious reaction to a vaccine.
As both Dr. Hansen and Dr. Aiken attest, immunizations play a crucial role in the health of individuals and of the East Cooper community.