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Health Education Blog

Understanding Vaccines: What They Are and How They Work

Posted by Staff on January 06, 2017

doctor giving flu vaccineAs most people know, we wear seat belts while driving to protect us from injury in the case of a car accident. Unfortunately, sometimes people are harmed in an accident even when they have taken preventative measures, like using a seat belt. But we can all agree that seat belts are a crucial protection because they drastically reduce the chance of serious injury, even death, from a car accident.

The same principle applies with vaccines and immunizations. Think of a vaccine like a seat belt. While nothing is 100 percent effective and there’s no guarantee against exposure to disease, modern vaccination offers high levels of protection against disease.

How Vaccines Work

A vaccine is the substance you receive to help build your immunity from certain diseases. The administration of a vaccine is called vaccination. The vaccine builds immunity by imitating an infection in your body, but it doesn’t actually cause illness. The process of developing immunity through the administration of vaccine is called immunization.

By imitating an infection in your body, your body is triggered to produce antibodies which fight off bacteria and viruses. These antibodies are training to fight illness that you might later be exposed to, thus strengthening your body against infection.

The immunization process can be confusing because although a vaccine doesn’t truly infect you, it can cause your immune system to respond as it would to an infection. This means that you might have side effects from the vaccine that imitate the side effects of the illness you are vaccinating against. However, the side effects are usually mild and short term.

The mild side effects of a vaccine are a good thing though, because it means your body is recognizing the imitated infection and is better prepared to fight the real disease you may encounter in the future. This is how vaccines build immunity in your body.

Vaccine Basics

Vaccines are safe

Safety is a priority because vaccines undergo rigorous testing and must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While there are risks to all medical products, the benefits of immunization to you and the community typically outweighs the risk of possible side effects.

Vaccines are effective

In fact, most childhood vaccines are 90-100 percent effective in preventing infectious disease—that’s very high effectiveness!

Vaccines protect individuals and the community

Immunization through vaccine not only protects you and your health, but it helps slow and stop the spread of vaccine-preventable illness on a large scale. When you’ve been immunized, you’re less likely to get sick with an infectious disease. This means if you’re not sick then you’re not able to spread that sickness to others. Then others would be less likely to get sick and less likely to repeat the cycle of spreading disease.

The big idea is that the more people get vaccinated, the more people are protected, and the closer we are to eliminating that disease. This is called “community immunity” or “herd immunity”, and it works!

In fact, vaccines have helped completely eradicate many diseases. One example is smallpox. This disease has been eliminated worldwide, thanks to the smallpox vaccine. In the United States, polio has been eliminated, due to the polio vaccine. 

Who Should Get Vaccinated?

Generally, whether you should get vaccinated and which vaccines you should get depends on your health, and other factors. Before recommending a vaccine, your doctor may consider where you work and what kind of work you do, where you live, if you have medical conditions, and so forth. There are certain vaccines recommended specifically for babies and children, pregnant women, young adults, and seniors.

There are also vaccines recommended for travel, but the ones you need will depend on where you are planning to travel. If you’re traveling with children, some recommended vaccines may have already been included in their routine vaccination schedule. Always consult with a doctor about you and your family’s vaccination plan before traveling.

There are other vaccines—such as rabies and tuberculosis—created for special circumstances, but they are not used as commonly. There are also vaccines available that were once but no longer used routinely, like the smallpox vaccine. This vaccine is only intended for use if an outbreak of smallpox occurs. This is because the disease is now considered eradicated.

Always consult with a doctor or healthcare professional about what vaccines you need. They can help you identify your situation and come up with a plan that is right for you.

How Vaccines are Part of Your Preventative Health Care

Think back to the seat belt analogy at the beginning of this article. You wear a seat belt while driving just in case you get in a car accident. The seat belt is there to prevent you from becoming seriously injured. Most people take many preventative measures to prevent road accidents, like signaling, following traffic lights and signs, and not speeding. Think of immunization in the same way. It’s one of many preventative measures you can take with your health care to stay healthy and alive.  

The Flu Vaccine

Flu vaccine has become more and more common and accessible. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months and older get the flu vaccine every year. The sooner the better too, because it takes about two weeks after vaccination for protection to set in. And the flu vaccine is updated each year to protect against the most current strains of the virus, that’s why it’s recommended to get this vaccine each year.

There are two types of flu vaccine: live-virus nasal spray and a killed-virus injection. Both are safe, but with the nasal spray especially some people may show signs of a low-grade infection, which is your body working to build immunity against the flu. If this is concerning to you, know that you can always request the flu shot instead of the live nasal spray.

The flu virus is common and in most cases treatable. Most people who get the seasonal flu (influenza) will have only mild symptoms. They won’t need medical care or prescription drugs, and they will recover in less than two weeks. But when you get vaccinated, you not only protect yourself but all the people around you who may not be able to fight the flu so easily.

Even though the flu doesn’t usually have serious consequences for most people, people in high risk groups can be severely affected. That’s why it’s so important to vaccinate against the flu—to help prevent the spread of this disease to high risk groups. These groups include children younger than 5, seniors, pregnant woman, and anyone with other serious diseases and chronic illnesses. In the United States there is about 100,000 hospitalizations and about 36,000 deaths each year caused by the flu. This vaccine can greatly reduce flu illnesses and prevent flu-related hospitalizations.

What to Consider About Vaccines

Making decisions about your health care can be tricky sometimes. There’s a lot of information and much to consider. You want to feel comfortable with your doctor and the decisions you make regarding your child’s health or your own health. Talk to your doctor about vaccination options and what’s right for you. If you ever have questions about the necessity or safety of vaccines, your health care provider should be able to answer your questions and point you to resources that can aid you in making the best possible decisions about your health care.

Do you feel comfortable making decisions with your doctor about your health care? Look for these signs:

  • You feel your doctor listens and respects you
  • You feel your doctor is non-judgmental and not pushy
  • Your doctor explains the risks and benefits of each vaccine
  • Your doctor explains the risks of each disease
  • The decision to vaccinate or not is ultimately left up to you

When making decisions about whether to vaccinate, ask your doctor about

  • Side Effects
  • Risk Factors
  • Vaccine Ingredients & Brands
  • How Vaccines are Administered
  • Pros and Cons
  • Vaccine Schedules

Where do I find more information I can trust about vaccines and immunizations?

If you want to know more or have concerns about getting vaccinated, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Did you know that at Orchard Hospital's Medical Specialty CenterYour Everyday Health Care Clinic—we offer many immunizations, including the flu vaccine? We also offer screening, diagnosis, and treatment for the flu and many illnesses. We will take care of you quickly and efficiently. No appointment necessary! It’s our goal to have fast and friendly care while delivering quality health care.

Our mission at Orchard Hospital is to provide our community with superior healthcare. We strive to ensure that your experience at Orchard Hospital is as pleasant and comfortable as possible. Our priority is to provide you with the care you need when you need it, with skill, compassion, and respect.

Topics: Services, Cold and Flu, Vaccines

About Our Blog:

This blog is the place to find general healthcare information, news and updates, as well as ways Orchard Hospital can help!


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