Vaccinations have proven to be one of the most important methods available to protect against a number of life-threatening and disabling diseases. When you are immunized, the vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies—the same way the body would respond if you were exposed to the disease. The resulting immunity is what makes vaccines such powerful medicine. Unlike most medicines that treat and cure disease, vaccines help prevent them!
Why are vaccinations important?
There are a variety of reasons why getting vaccinated is important.
- Immunizations save lives. Because of advances in medical science, some diseases that once injured or took the lives of thousands have been eliminated, such as polio. Other diseases are rarely seen, thanks to safe and effective vaccinations, such as measles and whooping cough.
- Vaccinations are safe and effective. Vaccines are only given after a long and careful review by scientists, doctors, and health care professionals, as well as extensive testing by the Food and Drug Administration. Vaccines can cause some discomfort, pain, redness, or tenderness at the site of injection, but this is minimal compared to the pain, discomfort, and trauma of the diseases these vaccines prevent.
- Unvaccinated people may be denied access to certain places and activities. A child who is not vaccinated for a preventable disease can be denied attendance to schools or childcare facilities. Some countries require proof or recommend certain vaccines before you visit.
- Immunizations save families time and money. Some preventable diseases result in prolonged disabilities that require long-term care and additional medical costs.
- Immunization protects future generations. In just a few generations, vaccines have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated many deadly or debilitating diseases. For example, smallpox vaccination eradicated the disease worldwide.
What if we stopped vaccinating?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diseases essentially eradicated today would stage a comeback. Other diseases that are nearly under control would grow into epidemics.
For example, in 2000, the US declared that measles was eliminated from this country. That means that there is the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more. The US was able to eliminate measles because it has a highly effective measles vaccine and a strong vaccination program that achieves high vaccine coverage. However, the outbreak in several US states in late 2014/early 2015 was caused by measles being brought into the country by unvaccinated travelers (Americans or foreign visitors) and spread to other people who are not protected against the measles. Pockets of unvaccinated people have been increasing, which poses a threat to those who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young, have weakened immune systems, or another medical condition in which getting vaccinated would pose a serious health risk.
The COVID-19 pandemic is another example of how vaccines can make a difference in the spread of contagious diseases. The vaccines administered in the US to combat COVID-19 have been proven to be safe, with only mild side effects reported in the majority of cases. Just as importantly, they are highly effective in preventing disease and lessening its severity in those who do contract COVID-19.
Diseases like the measles and COVID-19 increase the likelihood of serious illness and mortality, so vaccinations are one of the best defense mechanisms for a healthy population.
For more information about immunizations, visit the CDC.