In a globalizing world, there is no question that diseases could evolve and threaten the lives of countless human beings. In an effort to protect ourselves, the health care system has developed vaccinations as the ideal weapons to combat these deadly diseases. However, the effects of vaccination are still a highly-contested debate. With people protesting vaccines because of the adverse side effects and physicians highlighting the preventative benefits, how do we know who we should really believe?
Before we address the validity of both ends of the argument, we must discuss the process through which pathogens enter and damage our immune systems. When germs enter the body, they attack and multiply rapidly. To fight against the building infection, the immune system has a defense mechanism comprised of white blood cells and antibodies. In this process, white blood cells, also known as macrophages, engulf the germs and produce antigens. Next, our b-cells’ antibodies attack the antigens in attempt to neutralize the invading pathogen. This process may last for several days, and it is one of the reasons why we experience symptoms like mild headaches and fevers. After the immune system gets rid of the pathogen, the body keeps t-cells, or memory cells, on standby in case the germ ever comes back into the body.
With our understanding of how the immune system works, we can see why physicians are emphasizing how vaccines are useful. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines mimic the process in which the body produces memory cells, without having the harmful infection. In this process, physicians incorporate mild forms of the specific pathogen and inject it into our bodies. Since the pathogen is in a mild form, the immune system can easily get rid of it and produce memory t-cells, which can combat the germ if the real, damaging form of it appears in the future. Ultimately, vaccines help protect the body and develop immunity to prevalent diseases.
As vaccines act as preventative measures for our bodies, they have led to great success. The Bulletin of the World Health Organization, a peer-reviewed public health journal, credits vaccines with the eradication of smallpox and type 2 poliovirus. Additionally, the WHO claims that we may soon eliminate HiB and MMR. These scientific developments have led to the annihilation of diseases and continued the effort toward the elimination of countless more. Thus, the argument that we should receive vaccinations is valid, because vaccines ultimately protect us from deadly diseases.
Like with many treatments that have benefits, there are individuals who argue against vaccines. In a world in which we frequently see the “dangers” of vaccines on television and on the Internet, it makes sense for us to fear vaccines for their adverse effects. According to a 2014 meta-analysis that gathered vaccination statistics from multiple health institutes, influenza vaccines produce the moderate adverse effect of gastrointestinal disorder among children ages five through eight, febrile seizures, and mild influenza symptoms. Additionally, the analysis indicates a relationship between the meningococcal vaccine and an anaphylactic (allergic) reaction in children. With shocking results like these, we can understand how some people disapprove of the use of vaccines and attempt to dissuade others from receiving immunization. Yet, it is important to recognize that, despite there being cases that reveal adverse effects of vaccines, these cases are extremely rare and weigh lightly when compared to the benefits of vaccines.
While there is the potential for side effects with vaccines, the odds of contracting them are very slim. For example, a 2012 CDC report on the adverse effects of the vaccine for MMR indicates that very low probability. The report stresses that one out of six individuals may experience a mild headache, and states that the rare instance of one out of a million may experience a serious allergic reaction.
Ultimately, the answer to our question is that we should believe both parties of the debate because they are both correct. Vaccines do provide us protection against diseases, and they do have dangerous side effects. However, we must recognize that these adverse effects are unlikely to occur, and there is abundant evidence that the pros outweigh the cons. Before shunning vaccines completely, we must ask ourselves a new question: who are the real enemies, vaccination… or diseases?
Andre, FE, R. Booy, HL Bock, J. Clemens, SK Datta, TJ John, BW Lee, S. Lolekha, H. Peltola, TARuff, M. Santosham, and HJ Schmitt. “Vaccination Greatly Reduces Disease, Disability, Death and Inequity Worldwide.” Vaccination Greatly Reduces Disease, Disability, Death and Inequity Worldwide. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Feb. 2008. Web. 26 June 2016.
Maglione, Margaret A., Lopamudra Das, Laura Raaen, Alexandria Smith, Ramya Chari, Sydne Newberry, Roberta Shanman, Tanja Perry, Matthew Bidwell Goetz, and Courtney Gidengil. “Safety of Vaccines Used for Routine Immunization of US Children: A Systematic Review.” AAP Gateway. American Academy of Pediatrics, Aug. 2014. Web. 26 June 2016.
“MMR (Measles, Mumps, & Rubella) VIS.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 26 June 2016.
“Vaccines: How They Work.” Bioinformatics for Vaccinology (n.d.): 73-112. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Feb. 2013. Web. 26 June 2016.
Editor: Rachel Levy