By Jackie Anderson
PrimeTime Health/Center Services Coordinator
Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging Inc.
Sometimes we are confused by the messages in the media. First, we are assured that, thanks to vaccines, some diseases are almost gone from the United States. But we are also warned to immunize our children, ourselves as adults and the elderly.
Diseases are becoming rare due to vaccinations. It’s true that some diseases (like polio and diphtheria) are becoming very rare in the United States. Of course, they are becoming rare largely because we have been vaccinating against them. But it is still reasonable to ask whether it’s really worthwhile to keep vaccinating.
It’s much like bailing out a boat with a slow leak. When we started bailing, the boat was filled with water. But we have been bailing fast and hard, and now it is almost dry. We could say, “Good. The boat is dry now, so we can throw away the bucket and relax.” But the leak hasn’t stopped. Before long we’d notice a little water seeping in, and soon it might be back up to the same level as when we started.
Unless we can “stop the leak” (eliminate the disease), it is important to keep immunizing. Even if there are only a few cases of disease today, if we take away the protection given by vaccination, more and more people will become infected and will spread disease to others. Soon we will undo the progress we have made over the years.
We don’t vaccinate just to protect our children. We also vaccinate to protect our grandchildren and their grandchildren. If we keep vaccinating now, parents in the future may be able to trust that diseases like polio and meningitis won’t infect, cripple, or kill children. Vaccinations are one of the best ways to put an end to the serious effects of certain diseases.
Myths and misinformation about vaccine safety can confuse parents who are trying to make sound decisions about their children’s health care. While some of the sickness or reactions that follow vaccination may be caused by the vaccine, many are unrelated events that occur by coincidence after vaccination. Therefore, the scientific research that attempts to distinguish true vaccine adverse events from unrelated, chance occurrence is important.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) is committed to ensuring that vaccines provided to the public and safe and effective. Once vaccines are licensed in the United States, CDC actively monitors the safety of these vaccines through several systems. If any vaccine is found to cause health problems, the vaccine may be withdrawn and no longer given to the public.
Through vaccine safety monitoring, we also make sure new vaccines are safe for people who are at high risk of complications if they get a disease, such as the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions, and pregnant women. In some cases, these high-risk groups may not be included in clinical trials.
The CDC ensures the safety of vaccines by:
- Conducting vaccine safety research, done by the nation’s leading vaccine safety experts.
- Assessing what could be the cause of an adverse event and identifying any potential risk factors.
- Searching for adverse events following immunization.
Vaccine safety monitoring continues to become more important with the development and use of new vaccines, expanded vaccine recommendations, and new global immunization initiatives. Reporting systems and vaccine safety activities will continue to be used to monitor and study adverse events, so vaccines can continue to be held to very high standards of safety.
Vaccines work best when most members of a community are vaccinated-the more people who are vaccinated, the lower the possible risk of anyone’s exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases. Because vaccines must be safe for use by as many people as possible, vaccines are developed in accordance with the highest standards of safety. Years of testing are required by law before a vaccine is licensed and distributed. As a result, the United States currently has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history.
As with any medical procedure, vaccination has some risks, as well as substantial, proven benefits. Anyone who takes a vaccine should be fully informed about both the benefits and the risks of vaccination. Any questions or concerns should be discussed with a physician or other health care provider. If you want to learn more about immunization and for a Summary of Recommendations for Immunizations, I encourage you to visit www.cdc.gov.
The Women’s Health Task Force is a small group volunteering time to educate women and families on important health issues. If you have an interest in health, work in a caring profession or want to volunteer with other sincere women, consider attending our monthly planning meetings.
These meetings are held the first Thursday of each month beginning at 12 p.m.. The next meeting will be held Aug. 7 at Penn State Extension in Clearfield County, 511 Spruce St., Suite 4, Clearfield. All interested people are encouraged to attend. Additional information is available by calling Penn State Extension at 814-765-7878.