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Vaccines 101 – Lessons 1 & 2

By Sarah Kaddour·August 21, 2018

What You Need to Know About Vaccines

Introduction to Vaccines

With back to school time in full swing, we want to talk about a very controversial topic in the pediatric healthcare community: Vaccinations.

Lead by Dr. Sabrina Clark, our series of blogs will dig into Vaccines 101.

Lessons 1 and 2 will cover: What a vaccine is and why there is controversy surrounding vaccinations.

There was a point in time when for the most part parents adhered to their pediatrician’s recommendations for their child without much apprehension when it came to vaccinating. However, over the years various reports began to surface in the media claiming that there were links between vaccines and things such as autism. This planted a lot of fear and anxiety in many communities. Parents began declining vaccines, requesting delayed vaccine schedules, and started to question the standard of care recommended for their children.

Lesson 1: What Is a Vaccine?

Vaccines can be a bit difficult to explain because there is a lot of science and medical jargon that goes along with it, but let’s simplify it a bit so that it’s easier to understand. A vaccine is a weakened form of an organism or components of an organism. Think of it like a security system for your body. A vaccine’s sole purpose is to expose your immune system to an illness (intruder) so that when your body sees this trespasser again in its full blown capacity you are programed with the tools (antibodies) needed to fight off that infection before it has the chance to cause harm to your body. A vaccine can be live or killed components of an organism however, is all cases it’s a weakened version making it virtually impossible for it to actually induce full blown infection in the body of a healthy person with a normal immune system. If you are more of a visual learner, check out this cool diagram from the CDC describing how a vaccine builds immunity.

Lesson 2: The Controversy Surrounding Vaccines

One of the biggest controversies surrounding vaccinations that lead to nationwide vaccine refusal trends stems from an article published in 1998 claiming there was a relationship between the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine and autism. In 2004 it was brought to light that the information in this article had been fabricated. Since this incident there have been numerous validated reports that have proven there is no link between vaccinations and autism. However, the damage had been done and since this occurred, vaccine refusal continues to be an issue in the pediatric healthcare community.

High trends in vaccine refusal has led to a climb in incidence of vaccine preventable diseases in the US. Measles, a virus that was deemed eliminated in 2000 lead to an outbreak in Disneyland-Anaheim in 2015. The U. S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified 188 cases associated with the Disneyland exposures most of which were labeled under or unvaccinated individuals.

Another big controversy surfaced when the HPV vaccine came on the market in 2006. HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer in women. When the vaccine was introduced there were lots of mixed views in the media in regards to why a vaccine for an STD was being recommended for young children. What I like to tell parents is, the purpose of the HPV vaccine is to prevent cervical cancer. It does not promote sexual activity, even if your child is not sexually active currently, eventually chances are that they will be in the future and in turn could be exposed to HPV, which is why we recommend widespread use of this vaccine.

Let’s Wrap Up:

At the end of the day, vaccination is a choice that parents have the right to make. As healthcare providers our job is to provide evidence based recommendations, advice, and follow the standard of care for our patients. It is important to keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your child’s pediatrician. Make sure all of your questions and concerns regarding vaccines are addressed. During your child’s health care visits, by federal law you provider is required to provide handouts called Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) on every vaccine your child is supposed to receive. If you would like to read about them beforehand, check out the VIS handouts here.

Take Home Points:

  1. A vaccine is simply a weakened form of an organism used to program your immune system.
  2. There is a lot of controversy surrounding vaccines. Beware of myths, false information, and focus on evidence based research and trusted information.

Continued learning!

Read Lesson 3: What is the Impact of Vaccines on Childhood Illness
Read Lesson 4: What is the recommended vaccine schedule?
Read Lesson 5: What are the common side effects of vaccines?

Disclaimer: Your instructor will disclose that her personal and profession opinion and recommendation is to always vaccinate and to follow the recommended immunization schedule. However, this article is solely meant to be informative, touch base on some of the controversies associated with vaccines, and address some of the concerns/questions that parents have about vaccines and their true purpose.

References and Additional Reading List: