Since the start of widespread vaccinations in the United States, the
number of cases of formerly common childhood illnesses like measles and diphtheria
have declined dramatically. Immunizations have protected millions of
kids from potentially deadly diseases and saved thousands of lives.
In fact, certain diseases crop up so rarely now that parents
sometimes ask if vaccines are even necessary anymore. This is just one
common misconception about immunizations. The truth is, most diseases
that can be prevented by vaccines still exist in the world, even in the
United States, although they occur rarely.
The reality is that vaccinations still play a crucial role in keeping
kids healthy. Unfortunately, misinformation about vaccines could make
some parents decide not to immunize their children, putting them and
others at a greater risk for illness.
To better understand the benefits and risks of vaccines, read on for answers to some common questions.
What do immunizations do?
Vaccines work by preparing a child's body to fight illness. Each
immunization contains either a dead or a weakened germ (or parts of it)
that causes a particular disease.
The body practices fighting the disease by making antibodies that
recognize specific parts of that germ. This permanent or longstanding
response means that if someone is ever exposed to the actual disease,
the antibodies are already in place and the body knows how to combat it
and the person doesn't get sick. This is called immunity.
Will my child's immune system be weaker by relying on a vaccine?
No, the immune system makes antibodies against a germ, like the chickenpox
virus, whether it encounters it naturally or is exposed to it through a
vaccine. Being vaccinated against one disease does not weaken the
immune response to another disease.
Will the immunization give someone the very disease it's supposed to prevent?
This is one of the most common concerns about vaccines. However, it's impossible to get the disease from any vaccine made with dead (killed) bacteria or viruses or just part of the bacteria or virus.
Only those immunizations made from weakened (also called attenuated)
live viruses - like the chickenpox (varicella) or measles-mumps-rubella
(MMR) vaccine - could possibly make a child develop a mild form of the
disease, but it's almost always much less severe than the
illness that occurs when someone is infected with the disease-causing
virus itself. However, for kids with weakened immune systems, such as
those being treated for cancer, these vaccines may cause problems.
The risk of disease from vaccination is extremely small. One live
virus vaccine that's no longer used in the United States is the oral
polio vaccine (OPV). The success of the polio
vaccination program has made it possible to replace the live virus
vaccine with a killed virus form known as the inactivated polio vaccine
(IPV). This change has completely eliminated the possibility of polio
disease being caused by immunization in the United States.
Read more answers to common immunization questions.