Vaccines protect people from illness with minimal risk.
Smallpox has been around for many millennia. For thousands of years, the virus caused a deadly illness that killed more than 35 percent of adults and 80 percent of children who contracted the disease. That is until the smallpox vaccine was discovered in 1796. Noting that milk maids rarely got smallpox, British rural physician Edward Jenner found that deliberate infection with the milder cowpox disease provided substantial immunity to smallpox. After decades of improvement to the vaccine and a campagin lead by the World Health Organization, global deaths from smallpox were reduced from two million per year in 1967 to zero in 1977. Human smallpox infections were virtually eliminated from this world because of vaccinations.
Another example of clever manipulation of the immune system is the story of a pneumonia vaccine. In a 2003 study, researches noted there had been a huge drop in hospitalizations of the elderly for pneumonia, with 12,000 fewer yearly deaths—especially in those older than 85. This is the result of routine childhood pneumonia vaccination. Although we now encourage two different pneumonia vaccines for those older than 65, the authors of the study claim that it was the routine vaccination of children that was responsible for the reduction of pneumonia in the elderly. Thus, herd immunity profoundly protects immune deficient adults by reducing their exposure to sick kids.
There have been dangerous and untrue rumors that vaccinations in children are responsible for autism. Despite the natural human wish to find something to blame for this condition, autism appears in similar rates in children who are given and not given vaccinations. Don’t get me wrong, some vaccines carry risks, but it all depends on the specific type of vaccine and what disease it is treating. Most vaccines are incredibly safe.
Take for example the vaccine for Dengue fever, where the risk of side effects is significant. With Dengue vaccine, ten children are saved for every one child who is harmed. Compare that with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine series given in the U.S. which has mild temporary side effects including fussiness, mild fever, injection-site soreness, affecting one child in four. There is temporary mild joint pain, rash, mild glandular swelling, and loss of appetite affecting one in 50, and high fever and platelet problems affecting one in 25,000. Much better than Dengue vaccine. The benefits of the MMR vaccine far outweigh the risks. That is why we routinely give people the MMR vaccine and only give people the Dengue vaccine if they have a high chance of exposure.
Vaccination, a clever manipulation of our immune system, protects us from the scourges of the future.
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