Role of immunizations in the prevention of disease.
Role of immunizations in the prevention of disease
Immunization is the process where the human body is made resistant against a specific type of disease or diseases. Most commonly, immunization is done using vaccines. With the help of vaccines, we have been able to eradicate Smallpox and are on the way to removing polio from the face of the earth.
Children, as early as at the time of birth, are given vaccines to guard their body against certain diseases and disabilities. Nonetheless, many are skeptical of the role of vaccines, so let’s briefly go over them!
What Makes a Vaccine and How Do They Work?!
First, we will have to learn how our body works against diseases to understand how vaccines work. Our body has an immune system in place that safeguards itself against diseases. When an antigen (a foreign entity that causes disease, a germ) enters the human body, our body produces antibodies that work against the antigen.
Sometimes, our body may not be able to produce antibodies as fast as the antigen can affect it, this is when we get affected by a disease. But our body has a mechanism within it that remembers each antigen that it fights. Hence, when the same antigen enters our body again, the body will be faster to respond and becomes much more effective at preventing it from causing damage.
Vaccines are antigens that are administered manually into the body. However, before they are injected into the body, they are processed in such a way that their effects are lessened. Sometimes even dead antigens are used. The result is that the body begins to produce antibodies against it as an immune response, helping the body remember the antigen for future confrontations.
The goal here is to familiarize the body with these antigens. This way, when a foreign antigen does enter the body, the body will be equipped to fight it. In essence, the child is exposed to the disease in a safe environment, it becomes their first exposure to the disease which protects them against it in the future.
A Brief History into Immunization: The Development of Vaccines
Before the age of vaccines, diseases like Smallpox, Measles and Polio caused a death count by the millions. Thanks to several of the scientists we will highlight, these numbers have drastically reduced.
It was in 1798 that the vaccine for smallpox was developed by Edward Jenner, the man who is considered to be the father of vaccinology.
He understood that dairymaids who were affected with cowpox didn’t succumb to the effects to smallpox. He did an experiment where he used cowpox strand in very low concentrations, on an 8-year-old child in hopes to protect him from smallpox and It worked! This was the beginning of mass immunization.
In 1885, Louis Pastor made the first vaccine against rabies. He was a revered doctor who expertized in vaccination and germ elimination techniques. Louis Pasteur’s efforts in vaccination created cholera and the anthrax vaccine in 1897 and 1904 respectively.
Jonas Salk, MD, and Albert Sabin, MD, made the first polio vaccine, which saved countless children from death and disabilities
With the help of vaccines, smallpox was eradicated from the world by 1977 and Polio was eliminated by the western hemisphere by 1991. Since the 2000s, immunizations have saved millions of lives around the world annually.
Types of Vaccination
There are mainly four types of vaccinations. Their categorization depends upon the nature of the antibodies used.
- Live Attenuated Vaccines
Live attenuated vaccines use a weakened form of the living germ. This form of vaccine is the closest that the body can get to actual infection. Live attenuated vaccines provide the most protection to the body against future infections of that particular antigen. One or two doses of vaccine can help the body get a lifetime of defense against the same germs.
Example: Vaccines against measles, varicella (chickenpox), smallpox, rotavirus
- Inactivated Vaccines
In this form of vaccines, dead germs are used as opposed to living weakened ones. Due to this reason, you cannot expect this form of vaccine to give you a lifetime of protection. They require booster shots at certain intervals to keep the immune system familiar with the antigen.
Example: Vaccines against Hepatitis A, Polio, Flu
- Subunit or conjugate vaccines
These forms of vaccines do not use a complete germ, instead, they use parts of a germ. Hence, they protect the body against that specific part of the germs, it may be a protein, sugar of capsid.
Example: Vaccines against Hepatitis B, Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib), Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
- Toxoid Vaccines
Toxoid vaccines are made using the toxin produced by a germ. Such a vaccine provides the body with the defensive power against such toxins, and not the germ itself. Toxoid vaccines may also require booster shots at specific intervals to keep the body protected against the toxins.
Example: Diphtheria, Tetanus
Importance of Immunization in Children
Newborn babies are generally immune to many diseases. This is because they get antibodies from their mothers. However, this passive immunity does not last long. It begins to fade away from the first few months and would only remain in the child for at most a year.
After a certain period, the immune system of the baby is its sole defense against antigens. In some cases, the body of the newborn may not be powerful enough to combat the antigen and can contract the disease.
Measles death was reduced by 78% between 2000 and 2008. During the same time, the sub-Saharan Africa saw death rates dropping by 92%.
Immunization and Its Effect On the Public Well Being
Immunization of children and the general population serves the society as a whole as it protects the unvaccinated population. Immunization of a group of people brings in “herd protection” where infections find it nearly impossible to spread in a community where the majority are vaccinated.
We saw the effectiveness of such a system in the Gambia where vaccination for 70% of the population was enough to eliminate Hib disease in the entire country. So when you, your child or your loved ones are vaccinated, they play an active role in protecting society. When more and more people are immunized to the deadly disease, it leads to a process called source drying, and subsequently eradication of the disease itself.
Role of immunizations in the prevention of disease is a clear one and throughout the years, countless lives have been saved. When you or your child is immunized, you are not just protecting yourself, but also the people around you. Getting proper vaccination at the right times is critical to leading a healthy and happy life.
At Bee Well El Paso Pediatrics, our goal to ensure that children are healthy and active through the most vibrant part of their lives. Call, text us or use our website to book an appointment today! Let us help in keeping the community of El Paso safe!
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