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All About Vaccines

In light of recent anti-vaccine rhetoric, it’s important to review the very positive role vaccinations have played in maintaining public health throughout the years. The community is always better served by the prevention of diseases instead of treatment, which can overwhelm the healthcare industry—particularly in case of epidemics.

There is a very long list of vaccines for a variety of debilitating diseases such as: cervical cancer, diphtheria, influenza, Lyme disease, pertussis, rabies, tuberculosis, and yellow fever—just to name a few. Likely the biggest vaccine triumph is the eradication of smallpox, a disease which once killed one out of every seven children in Europe.

In addition to savings lives and improving well-being, vaccines also save society money, as the cost of a single dosage is many times less than the time and resources required for treatment of the associated disease.

How do vaccines work?

  • The human body is attacked by pathogens and produces antibodies every day.
  • Antibodies become a sort of “memory cell” in the body to help ward off future attacks.
  • Vaccines contain a weakened form of a disease that, when injected, does not produce the disease itself but encourages antibodies and subsequent memory cells.
  • These memory cells can remain in the system for decades.

There is a long history of distrust of vaccines in the United States. In 1879, a gentleman named William Tebb created the Anti-Vaccination Society of America. Skeptics still remain, refusing childhood vaccinations for their children due to concerns about the risk of autism, ADHD and hyperactivity.

  • Some individuals contend that vaccinations do not stop diseases at all, and that factors including better sanitation practices, reduced poverty, and better education work together to lower disease rates.
  • Any link between vaccines and autism has been thoroughly discredited.

Let’s review two notable vaccines, one developed half a century ago, and another which is currently in the news:

The poliomyelitis viral disease, commonly known as polio, afflicted hundreds of thousands of people annually before the development of a vaccine:

  • Scientist Jonas Salk created the safest and most effective polio vaccine in the 1950s, which instantly saved thousands of lives. Salk was hailed as a hero, as the country came to a standstill to celebrate the news.
  • The polio vaccine is heralded as a major scientific achievement, an example of how hard work and diligence can conquer problems.

Gardasil is the brand name of a relatively new vaccine that prevents the human papillomavirus virus, (HPV), which can lead to cervical and other genital area cancers:

  • According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly two thirds of cervical cancer deaths can be prevented through widespread adoption of the vaccine.
  • Controversy surrounds some states and school districts which call for mandatory HPV vaccinations.

Looking towards the future, advances in medicine will likely reverse the likelihood of many diseases. Research into HIV and advanced smallpox vaccines, as well as DNA-based solutions, are an example of this type of treatment, which has generated significant interest.

Despite unproven claims about vaccines, booster shots play a vital role in limiting the spread of some of the most crippling diseases in the world. For more information about preventable diseases, vaccine schedules and the importance of following all recommended guidelines, visit the CDC’s site at www.CDC.Gov.

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