Most vaccines contain parts of a germ or toxin that have been made so weak that they can no longer cause illness, but will stimulate one’s immune system to make antibodies against that disease. Therefore, in the future, when they are exposed to that particular germ, the antibodies should prevent one from getting sick.
Since vaccines were first developed in the late 1700s, millions of lives have been saved. Smallpox, which wiped out entire civilizations, has actually been totally eliminated from the face of the Earth because of the smallpox vaccine. I watched friends come down with polio in the 1950s and become permanently paralyzed. This was a fearful disease until the polio vaccine banished it from the U.S.
We have effectively controlled outbreaks of common diseases such as measles, mumps, diphtheria and chicken pox. Before the chicken pox vaccine became available, more than 11,000 Americans were hospitalized and more than 100 died each year from the disease. It is estimated that measles, one of the most contagious diseases in the world, could cause almost 3 million deaths worldwide if vaccinations were stopped.
Commonly asked questionsAre vaccines safe? I believe they are. Thousands of people take part in clinical trials before a vaccine is approved. Millions of people are vaccinated every year. Some people may get local reactions of pain, swelling and redness at the vaccination site, but this lasts only a few days.
Can vaccines cause autism? I know this is an extremely controversial issue, but I can find no scientific proof in the peer-reviewed literature to directly link vaccines and autism. Common pediatric vaccines, with the exception of some flu shots, no longer contain mercury or thimerosal, chemicals often implicated with vaccine side effects.
Are infants getting too many shots at once? In general, infants tolerate these vaccines very well. Every day, infants come into contact with millions of particles such as bacteria, viruses and pollen that impact their immune systems. Delaying shots can leave a child unprotected against certain diseases, many of which can have dangerous complications such as seizures, brain damage, blindness and even death.
If everyone gets vaccinated, will my child still need them? It is true that an unimmunized child has less of a chance of catching a disease if everyone else is immunized, but if a larger number of children are not immunized, then there will be a greater chance of highly contagious diseases spreading through the population.
How long does immunity last after getting a vaccine? Many vaccines, such as measles and hepatitis B, lend lifetime immunity. Others, such as tetanus, last for many years but require booster shots.
The bottom line is that vaccinations have saved millions of lives, significantly lessened — and in cases eliminated — certain killer diseases, and have played a significant role in the increased lifespan of humans over the past several generations.
There are many well-intentioned individuals and groups who advocate against vaccinations. I hear what they are saying, but scientific evidence and multiple studies have demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations.
• Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent care physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. A doctor with 36 years' experience, he invites you to view all of his previous articles at his web site valleydoctor.wordpress.com. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.