15 Sep Immunizations: Calling the Right Shots
I think I’d be correct in saying that all of us who had our vaccinations when we were kids remember them. You can probably vividly recall feel of the cotton swab. The smell of the rubbing alcohol. The little sting of the needle.
And it’s amusing in a way how those memories affect our lack of enthusiasm for getting vaccinations the rest of our lives. Yet there are few things that are more effective in helping prevent diseases than vaccinations. The World Health Organization estimates that 2.5 million deaths are prevented annually by vaccines.You might call it an amazing ROI – Return on Injection! But generally, we tend to think of vaccinations as something you get when you’re a kid and don’t have to think about when you’re older. Well, that’s not correct. We really shouldn’t take our shots for granted. A little history might set the scene.
The first vaccinations
Getting a vaccination is so easy you sometimes can forget just how frightening and deadly some diseases were before preventive immunizations were discovered, such as polio, measles, diphtheria and the first to be addressed, smallpox.
Did you know that in the 18th century, smallpox was the most feared disease in Europe and killed as many as 10-20% of the population? As well, when Europeans first came to the Americas they exposed the Native American population to smallpox for the first time, which may have killed 80-90% of the indigenous population.
An English surgeon, Dr. Edward Jenner was intrigued by folklore saying that people who got cowpox from their cows would not catch smallpox. When his milkmaid Sarah caught cowpox from her cow Blossom, he decided to test this theory on his gardner’s 8 year old son James. Edward made a few scratches on the young boy’s hand, and rubbed in some of the fluid from one of the pox on Sarah’s hand into the wound. A few days later, James had a mild fever and a rash but soon recovered. A couple of months later, Edwards then inoculated James with human smallpox. To his great relief, the boy never developed smallpox. These results were published in 1798. [http://www.jennermuseum.com/vaccination.html]
Through coordinated worldwide efforts, the once feared deadly disease that killed an estimated 300 million people in the 20th century alone was completely eradicated by 1980, with the last case of the disease reported in 1977. Attacking smallpox was the first step in an immunization revolution that continues to transform lives across the globe.
Shots aren’t just for kids
So now we’re back to you and what you should be thinking about. Some of us assume that the vaccines we received as kids cover us for the rest of their lives. That can be true for some vaccinations, but you should also know that:
- Some of us were never vaccinated as children for diseases like mumps, measles and
- Newer, more effective vaccines were not available when some adults were children
- Immunity can fade over time requiring boosters or subsequent dosing
- As we age, we become more susceptible to serious disease caused by common infections (such as flu and pneumococcus) that we weren’t given shots for at all
It’s important to review your immunization history with a doctor to discover what vaccines should be administered or given again. Each person’s needs are different, based on gender, history and lifestyle factors among others. Even if you have your own doctor, our doctors at Crossover Health can help assess your needs as part of your annual health screening or whenever you do come in for one of our services. In addition, you can find out more about vaccinations for adults at the web site for the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [http://www.cdc.gov/features/adultimmunizations/].
Are Vaccinations Safe? The Anti-Vax Story
Part of our review of vaccinations will include discussion of potential side effects. As the CDC points out on its web site, every vaccine has the potential for side effects [http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm] but these are normally very minor and should not be seen as a reason to avoid the remarkable protection afforded by modern vaccines. Yet it seems that the aversion to vaccination still leaves people susceptible to fear mongering.
One of the most dramatic and damaging examples of this resulted from a “white paper” published in the UK medical journal, The Lancet in 1998. The author, Andrew Wakefield, supposedly demonstrated a link between the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism in children, as well as inflammatory bowel disease. This led to tremendous negative publicity and a big decline in childhood MMR vaccines both in the UK and the US. Many celebrities jumped on the anti-vax bandwagon, causing an even greater drop in the numbers of children given these (and other) important immunizations.
But guess what? It was all a fabrication. Other researchers were unable to reproduce the findings, and a 2004 investigation showed that Wakefield had undisclosed financial conflicts of interest and falsely manipulated data. Ultimately, in 2010 the British General Medical Council found Wakefield guilty of three dozen charges including dishonesty and abuse of developmentally challenged children and was barred from practicing medicine in the UK, and is not licensed in the US where he currently lives.
At the same time, The Lancet fully retracted the original article showing link between MMR and autism. However, damage was done as the impact of children without immunization appearing in schools caused a dangerous spike in the incidence of diseases like measles. And the anti-vax myth still perpetuates, which means that many people aren’t covered. We all should be.
We’re glad when you come to us at Crossover to help with a health issue. We like to help you get better. But what we really love to do is help you stay well. The right diet. The right fitness routines. Dealing successfully with the ongoing stresses and strains of our everyday lives. And making sure you have the right vaccinations is such an important part of staying well. I guess it’s my not so subtle way of saying we owe it to ourselves, our families and everyone around to get the right immunizations and get covered.