Those in the world who have received recommended vaccinations to prevent infectious disease have benefited from a major biologic discovery of the 20th century. The purpose of this discussion is to describe how vaccines stimulate the body to develop immunity to life-threatening infections, describe rare side effects, and elaborate about the unhealthy practice of delaying or skipping recommended vaccinations for children.
Personally, I have adult vaccinations for hepatitis, influenza and pneumonia. I am grateful all four of my children received every recommended childhood vaccination growing up.
There are some vaccine risks, however; fortunately they are extremely rare and many can be prevented with knowledge of a person's allergic or specific medical history. As a youth I witnessed a serious side effect in our family dog after vaccination for rabies. On a pleasant summer day, my 8-year-old sister, Nancy, and I walked our adult black cocker spaniel, Smokey, 2 blocks to the veterinarian for his rabies booster shot. He received his vaccination, but upon leaving the clinic stopped outside the clinic coughing and frothing at the mouth. I carried him back into the veterinarian's office. We waited expectantly, but the doctor came out to tell us Smokey died. The veterinarian explained that Smokey developed anaphylaxis due to an egg allergy since the vaccine was produced using chicken eggs.
Today vaccines are manufactured to dramatically lower egg allergy risks. Even today the memory of Smokey is still with us. The tragedy of that day I think influenced my sister's wish to become a veterinarian. She was turned down for admission to a veterinary school, but she accomplished what in her mind was the next best vocation when she became a pediatrician.
Immunity to a disease requires the human body to create molecules called "antibodies" after exposure to infectious bacteria and viruses. The antibodies then attack and destroy these organisms when they enter the body. Vaccines produced by pharmaceutical companies stimulate the body to produce antibodies to specific diseases without causing infection.
This is done by four major methods:
1) Inject a weakened or attenuated live virus such as the polio vaccine
2) Inject a dead virus
3) Inject an altered toxin from tetanus bacteria
4) Inject vital parts of viruses and bacteria.
The vaccine injected does not contain the immunity or antibodies, but the vaccine stimulates the body's immune system to generate antibodies. Most childhood and some adult vaccinations require second and third follow-up shots to boost the antibody response. For some people, a vaccine generates insufficient antibodies to provide immunity.
Common vaccination side effects like mild fever, swelling and soreness at the injection site are expected. It is a proven misconception that a mercury-containing preservative in older vaccines caused autism.
An article in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 7 pointed out that in spite of government assurance of vaccination safety and proven effectiveness preventing fatal infectious diseases, 5 percent of Americans opt out of vaccinations for their children. This occurs in Chautauqua County at the same rate, according to, Virginia Campion, MD, from Jamestown Pediatrics.
She explained that opting out occurs because people want to delay injections during their child's first year and mistrust the government for vindicating mercury in vaccines. She says the Amish community, which declines all vaccinations, today experiences an epidemic of pertussis (whooping cough). Since vaccinations have literally wiped out fatal and crippling infectious diseases in the last 50 years, most parents have never experienced the ramifications of these illnesses so are ignorant of the devastation caused by polio, meningitis or diphtheria.
Recommended vaccination schedules are available from the American Academy of Pediatrics or in the books "Mayo Clinic Family Health Book" and "The Red Book-2012" by the American Academy of Pediatrics available with supervised public access in the WCA Hospital medical library.
Serious reactions after vaccination like anaphylaxis, suffered by my childhood dog, are extremely rare. Physicians inquire about allergies before administering vaccinations, observe patients afterward and are prepared to treat a serious reaction if it develops.