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Making the Decision to Vaccinate
Posted by Emily Pazel

Before vaccines were created, the reality of severe illness – or even death – from widespread diseases was a worldwide fear.

Overtime, vaccines have successfully evolved in the healthcare industry, eradicating certain diseases altogether, such as smallpox, and nearly eliminating others, like polio. Other diseases such as measles, diphtheria and whooping cough are at an all-time low, according the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

When a child is born, they are born with protection against some diseases due to the mother passing antibodies to them in the womb and through breastfeeding. However, this protection is temporary, and as such, children are recommended to receive certain vaccinations at varying stages of their lives.

Protecting your child’s health plays a vital role in parenthood. Before making the decision to vaccinate your child, do some research on these topics:

  • How vaccines work

  • Types of vaccines & its ingredients

  • Side effects & common concerns

  • Vaccine safety

To assist in determining if vaccinations are right for you and your family, we are taking a deeper look at vaccinations.

What is a vaccination?

A vaccine is a type of medicine that helps the body’s immune system fight off certain diseases. According to the CDC, vaccines can prevent diseases from becoming dangerous – or even deadly. They reduce the risk of infection in a child by working with their body’s natural defenses to help them safely develop immunity to the disease.

So, you might ask, what causes these diseases in the first place? When germs, such as bacteria or viruses, invade the body, they attack and multiply causing an infection. The immune system then has to fight off the illness that the infection caused. Once the infection is gone, the body has a supply of cells that help recognize and fight that disease in the future.

Ultimately, vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection. Rest assured, imitating the infection will not cause an illness to develop, but instead, causes the immune system to develop the same response as it does to a real infection so that the body can recognize and fight the vaccine-preventable disease in the future. Occasionally, this is why after getting a vaccine, the imitation infection can cause minor symptoms.

As children grow with age, they require additional doses of some vaccines that are recommended for the best protection, according to the CDC.

What types of vaccines are there? What’s in them?

There are many ways to approach designing a vaccine against an illness, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. From how the infection contaminates the cell to how the immune system responds to it, scientist use fundamental information to make the best decision about creating a vaccine.

Here’s a list of different types of vaccines:

  • Live, attenuated vaccines: this approach uses a weakened (or attenuated) form of the germ that causes a disease

  • Inactivated vaccines: these are killed version of the germ that causes a disease; inactivated vaccines are typically not as powerful as live vaccines

  • Subunit vaccines: this vaccine includes only the antigens that best stimulate the immune system

  • Toxoid vaccines: this approach uses a toxin (harmful product) made by the germ that causes a disease; they create immunity to the parts of the germ that cause a disease instead of the germ itself

  • Conjugate vaccines: this vaccine is used when the bacteria has an outer coating of sugar molecules called polysaccharides

Vaccines contain ingredients, called antigens, which cause the body to develop immunity. Vaccines also contain very small amounts of other ingredients. According to the CDC, all ingredients either help make the vaccine or ensure the vaccine is safe and effective. These types of ingredients are listed below.

Vaccine Ingredients:

  • Preservatives: To prevent contamination (example: Thimerosal)

  • Adjuvants: To help stimulate the body’s response to the antigens (example: Aluminum salts)

  • Stabilizers: To keep the vaccine potent during transportation and storage (example: Sugars, gelatic)

  • Residual cell culture materials: To grow enough of the virus or bacteria to make the vaccine (example: Egg protein)

  • Residual inactivating ingredients: To kill viruses or inactivate toxins during the manufacturing process (example: Formaldehyde)

  • Residual antibiotics: To prevent contamination by bacteria during the vaccine manufacturing process (example: Neomycin)

The schedule of recommended immunizations may vary depending on where you live, your child’s health, the type of vaccine and what vaccines might be available at the time.

The CDC has listed out a recommendation of when your child should receive their vaccines based on age. Some of the vaccines may be given as part of a combination vaccine so that a child gets fewer shots. You should always consult your child’s doctor to determine what vaccines are best for your child.

What are some of the side effects of vaccines? What are common concerns?

As with any medication, vaccines can cause side effects when taken. A majority of the time, these side effects are mild, such as experiencing redness and swelling where the shot was given, which goes away within a few days.

However, serious side effects after vaccinations, such as a severe allergic reaction can happen, but is very rare and medical professionals are trained to handle these types of reactions. As a parent, it’s important to pay attention to your child for few days after the vaccination. If you see something that concerns you, call the child’s doctor so that they can better assess the situation.

Some parents might still have questions about getting their child vaccinated or worry that a child might have a serious reaction. The best way to overcome concerns regarding vaccines is to become more knowledgeable in the subject. The CDC, and other health organizations like it, provides multiple articles and videos that disseminate a wealth of knowledge about vaccines.

How can I ensure that vaccines are safe?

According to the CDC, vaccines have evolved overtime. “Currently, the United States has the safest vaccine supply in its history”.

Starting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), vaccines are thoroughly monitored and regulated for safety, effectiveness and availability for use in the United States. Prior to the FDA approving a vaccine, highly trained FDA scientists and doctors study and evaluate the results of clinical studies on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. The FDA also continuously inspects the site where vaccines are made to ensure they are following strict manufacturing guidelines.

Throughout the vaccine process, they are continuously monitored for possible side effects, even after the FDA licenses a vaccine. If the CDC and FDA find a link between a possible side effect and vaccine, public health officials take the appropriate action.

Throughout the 21st century, the importance of vaccine safety will continue to grow and the development of new vaccines will add to the list of available immunizations. Scientists may also perfect new ways of administering vaccines, including edible and needleless injections to make them less painful to endure, especially for young children. Overtime, vaccines will remain the most effective tool we have for preventing disease and overall, improving the lives of our loved ones.

So while some parents may hesitate to vaccinate, remember that the risks of vaccinations are small compared to the risks of deadly diseases they’re intended to prevent.