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A Brief Overview of Why Vaccination Matters


Kevin Russell, Natasha Larivee, Cameron Ashe, and Matt Stewart, LIC Clerks, Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, Horizon's Miramichi Regional Hospital

Vaccines. A polarizing topic that is sure to induce conflicting opinions. Some people feel very strongly about them one way or another, while others are indifferent to the most effective means of disease prevention.

The words vaccine and immunization mean the same thing and we will be using both terms. In this article, we will discuss a brief history of vaccines, how they work and why you should care!

The first vaccine was not actually a vaccine at all, but an observation. In the late 1700s, Dr. Edward Jenner noticed milkmaids who had previously contracted cowpox were then later immune to smallpox. Smallpox was very contagious disease that caused fever, vomiting and rash and could lead to blindness or death.

Dr. Jenner tested his theory (perhaps unethically) by injecting a young boy with material from a cowpox lesion. Two months later, he inoculated the boy with smallpox with no effect, demonstrating the first successful immunity via vaccination.

Modern vaccines work very much the same way, although the process is much safer and more controlled. Immunizations expose your body to either a deadened or weakened strain of a bacteria or virus, which then allows your immune system to build defenses against it. This way, if you get exposed to the actual disease in the future, you won't get infected.

Thanks to the initial efforts by Dr. Jenner, smallpox became the first disease to be completely eradicated. This milestone took place almost 200 years after the first vaccination, when the World Health Organization launched a campaign to seek out remaining pockets of the disease, and smallpox was finally eliminated in 1980.

Today, there are a wide range of diseases that we vaccinate against, from tetanus, to chickenpox to hepatitis A & B. You can read more about the different types of vaccines here.

Many of the vaccine-preventable illnesses have had no recorded cases at all, thanks to Public Health vaccination efforts. As these diseases became less and less common, people began questioning if vaccines were necessary.

The modern vaccine conversation is dominated by concerns of safety, utility and effectiveness. For instance, there is uneasiness regarding vaccine ingredients and a disproven link between immunizations and autism.

Of course, these are important questions, but they have been addressed repeatedly in the scientific literature. Vaccines (like any medication) undergo a rigorous approval process, including non-human studies, multiple clinical trials, and consistency testing before they are allowed for public use.

As a result of the changing of attitudes, certain diseases are starting to make a comeback.

Some examples include the recent whooping cough outbreak at Moncton High School and the fact that measles cases worldwide are up by 300 per cent in 2019.

Some countries are using a radical approach to correcting the infectious disease crisis. Iceland recently introduced a ban on unvaccinated travellers. Now, to enter the country for any period of time, you must have documentation from a physician indicating your vaccination status.

In Italy, a new law was passed that bans unvaccinated children from attending public school. Parents may be fined and children under the age of 6 may be sent home. Consequently, since the laws implementation, Italy has seen a massive increase in vaccination uptake.

In Canada, our Chief Public Health Officer has issued a statement voicing her concerns on the recent measles outbreak and vaccine hesitancy. She says, "Keeping Canadians, especially our children, healthy and free from disease is our shared priority."

That's a lot of information to digest, so here are the key takeaway points:

-  Mild pain, redness or swelling at the injection site

- A temperature or shivering

- Tiredness or fatigue for 1 to 2 days

- A headache

- Mild muscle and joint pain

Debunked myths

- Myth #1: Vaccines cause autism. This is FALSE. This has been completely disproved and the physician who made this claim has lost his medical licence because of his improper research.

- Myth #2: Infant immune systems can't handle many vaccines at one time. This is FALSE. Babies encounter many viruses and bacteria every day. Their system cannot be overwhelmed by vaccines.

- Myth #3: "Natural" immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity. Insomecases, getting sick and healing from an infection can result in stronger immunity. However, a lot of these diseases can be life threatening, so getting vaccinated is the better and safer option. For example, "measles parties" are very dangerous.

We understand everyone has a right to direct their own health care. There is a lot of misinformation out there about vaccines that can impact not only the health of you and your family, but the community as well.

If you would like to do your own research on this topic, be aware that using the term immunization (instead of vaccination) will lead you to more reputable resources and give you better information. Our goal is to make sure you have the right tools and knowledge to make informed decisions.

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