Updated: Jun 25, 2021
Vaccinations have become an increasingly hot-button issue lately. Although they are often misunderstood, they are important tools for keeping kids healthy and safe. Thanks to vaccinations, many diseases like polio and measles that used to destroy thousands of lives and families have been almost completely eliminated. However, while doctors and medical professionals who understand the subject almost unanimously agree with the importance and effectiveness of vaccines, much louder voices including some celebrities have started campaigning against vaccine use. This anti-vaccination movement has gained traction in recent years, creating potentially catastrophic health risks for children everywhere if it continues. How Vaccines Work Something that many parents find alarming about vaccines is that they actually contain trace amounts of the bacteria which cause the infections that they are designed to prevent. How can injecting germs into children make them safer? It seems counterintuitive, and it's one reason why some people are skeptical. But it actually makes sense. When a disease enters the body, the first thing that the human immune system does is send white blood cells to identify the germs and find their weaknesses. They then produce antibodies, which are essentially the weapons that the body uses to fight those particular germs. The body has an uncanny ability to remember germs it has fought in the past, and get right to work producing those antibodies. This is why most people won't get the chicken pox a second time after getting it once. However, it is much harder for the immune system to effectively identify and fight germs when those germs are fighting back and reproducing. For this reason dead or disarmed germs are included in vaccines, which the body then gets a chance to practice fighting. Think of it like a study guide for the immune system to help it understand important material that it might be tested on later. Herd Immunity An important concept when talking about vaccinations is herd immunity. As the name suggests, this is often used when talking about herds of animals. Basically, it says that while each individual within a group has their own level of immunity to a disease, their chances of getting that disease are increased or decreased by the immunity of those around them. If there is one individual within a group who is particularly at risk of getting a disease, they will be safer if everyone around them is immune to the disease, because there will be no one to catch it and pass it on to them. The same principle applies to humans, except that in our case our 'herds' are families, schools, and any other people we are around frequently. Shouldn't Parents Have the Right to Choose? Another concern that many people have against mandatory vaccines is that requiring them seems to take away parents' autonomy. Shouldn't a parent be in charge of their own child's health care decisions? While this raises a lot of important ethical questions, it is important to remember that there are laws in place to protect children from potentially negligent parents for a reason. A parent might think that it is safe to let a small child ride in the front seat of a car, but statistically that isn't true. However, this point is moot because vaccines don't just protect the child who receives them. They protect that child, as well as everyone who comes into contact with them, be it on the playground or at school. As good as vaccinations are, and despite all of the research and advancements put into them, there are still rare cases where they might not work. A vaccine might have a 97% rate of completely blocking a disease, but the other 3% of people who have taken it could be at risk without knowing it. Luckily, herd immunity largely keeps these individuals safe, as they are unlikely to ever come into contact with the disease. But if more individuals within the 'herd' aren't immune to the disease, that risk starts to multiply. While some parents might want to skip the vaccinations and let herd immunity keep their kid safe, this is an irresponsible approach that puts their child as well as others at risk. Conclusion Vaccines aren't perfect, and they may cause temporary discomfort. However, they make us much safer both as individuals and as a species. Be sure to ask your doctor about what vaccines you or your child should be taking, and remember that some vaccines need to be taken multiple times in order to be effective. There are even vaccines that should be taken as an adult, or when visiting areas of the world where certain dangerous diseases are present.