Vaccines may be polarizing in the press, but in truth, they are an important line of defense against preventable illnesses for vulnerable populations.
When you get immunized through a vaccine, your body is stimulated to produce the same antibodies that would work to fight the disease in the first place, giving your body powerful protection to ensure you can easily defeat it if necessary.
There’s no question that vaccines have saved millions of lives around the world, but their benefit is even greater for those with immune systems too compromised to even get vaccinated- thanks to the power of herd immunity.
What is Herd Immunity?
Infectious diseases move from a single case to an epidemic when they can easily spread from person to person. When a large portion of a population is vaccinated, it’s hard for pathogens to find potential hosts, meaning that they stop spreading before they make much headway. For this reason, the best way to stop the spread of infectious diseases is to vaccinate the entire population.
However, some people’s immune systems can’t handle vaccines, meaning that they are left vulnerable if exposed to a pathogen. For this reason, the best way to protect this vulnerable population is to surround them by vaccinated people who won’t spread the disease. This is called ‘herd immunity’, and it’s lifesaving for young children, the immunocompromised, and the elderly alike.
Herd immunity only works when a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated, and that number varies depending on the disease. Living in a place where vaccination rates are low puts vulnerable populations at risk of exposure. For this reason, it’s not a smart idea to rely on herd immunization for disease protection unless absolutely necessary.
The Value of Vaccines for Children
There is a wide variety of reasons why vaccines are a smart idea for children around the world, including the following.
- Safe and Effective: Despite what some people believe, all vaccines are carefully reviewed before being given to children, and they need to pass extensive testing by the FDA and health care professionals. For this reason, the risks of mild discomfort that come from getting a vaccine far outweighs the trauma of the prevented disease.
- Saves Countless Lives: Go back just a few decades, and thousands of children were stricken each year with diseases like polio that had the power to paralyze and even kill them. Today, these virulent diseases have all but been eradicated in the western world, thanks to the prevalence of vaccines
- More Cost-Effective: The complications of treating a disease can get exorbitantly expensive, especially when long-term care is needed afterwards. Vaccines can prevent this painful expense by preventing the disease in the first place.
- Protects People in the Future: When herd immunization becomes the norm, diseases that used to debilitate a population can disappear in a matter of generations. By immunizing children today, you are helping to reduce the prevalence of the same disease for their children someday.
Children and the Elderly: How Vaccines Keep Them Safe
By far, children and the elderly are two of the most vulnerable populations to dangerous pathogens in the world today. Inevitably, when the two populations meet, the likelihood of spreading a potentially dangerous disease between them is heightened.
As you age, your immune system weakens over time, which puts you at higher risk for the seasonal flu and other diseases. While most exposed adults can fight off these diseases without issue, they can spell disaster for the still-forming immune systems in infants.
For this reason, it’s highly recommended that elderly people in contact with young children get vaccinated against a variety of diseases, including the flu, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and pneumococcal disease (pneumonia). This helps young children by increasing the herd immunity around them until they are old enough to handle the vaccinations for themselves.
In the same way, children that are toddler age and older should also be vaccinated before meeting with elderly people, especially if the elderly have been physically weakened in any way. This prevents them from inadvertently passing on potentially deadly infections.
The Benefits of Vaccines When Used Correctly
Vaccines are a gift to the modern world, but they only work when used by the majority of the population. Herd immunization is the best way to protect vulnerable populations like young children and the elderly, so make sure that both populations are protected as much as their immune systems can handle before they meet with each other.
If you want more guidance about which vaccinations make sense for you, be sure to talk with your doctor to get recommendations and a vaccine schedule that ensures you keep those around you as safe as possible.