What are Vaccines?

In China, smallpox scabs were collected from victims and put into bottles. After a month or so, most of the smallpox viruses were dead or weakened. To make a person immune, the powdered scabs were blown into their nostrils. In India, the pus from a mild case of smallpox was used and smeared into a scratch on another person’s arm. In Turkey, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu first witnessed the use of proxy pus in 1717. Montagu was so impressed that she brought the idea back to England. However, the pox was sometimes strong enough to cause the full blown disease and eventually death. A way had to be found of infecting people without killing them. In 1796, Englishman, Edward Jenner saw that milkmaids sometimes caught cowpox and this made them immune to smallpox. Jenner went on to prove that if you deliberately give someone a small dose of cowpox, they won’t get deadly smallpox

What is Vaccination?

Throughout history, we have developed vaccinations to protect both humans and animals from a wide range of preventable and potentially serious illnesses. With vaccines, we take advantage of one of the most important aspects of the immune system: the ability to develop immunological memory. This means that once the person or animal is exposed to a particular pathogen, in other words, anything that can cause an illness, they will develop a resistance to infection with that pathogen in the future. Our adaptive immune system contains white blood cells known as T and B lymphocytes. These become activated during the first time or primary exposure to a pathogen. Once the pathogen has been fought off by our body, the population of these T and B lymphocytes (known as memory cells) remain in the individual. These memory cells remain on standby, ready to react quickly when the individual is re-exposed to that particular pathogen, in what is known as secondary exposure. The immunological memory helps the immune system respond much more rapidly and effectively than during the primary exposure. As a result, the individual is generally protected from the development of disease symptoms.

Now that we know about immunological memory, what about vaccines? It simply means we generate this memory effect artificially and at an early stage to prevent future disease. This means we inject a weakened version of pathogens, inactive pathogens or just particular parts of the pathogens into the individual we want to protect. These pathogens are unlikely to cause any distinctive harm, unlike their more dominant strong counterparts. In healthy individuals, these vaccine components activate a specific immune response mimicking primary infection but weak enough to cause the development of disease symptoms. For example, varicella or chickenpox vaccine involves the injection of a weakened version of the varicella-zoster virus. In healthy individuals, this weakened virus will not cause chickenpox symptoms, but it will activate an immune response. As a result, when the vaccinated individual comes across the varicella-zoster virus again e.g. from a person infected with chickenpox, he or she will mount a rapid memory immune response to the virus and will not develop chickenpox symptoms. By taking advantage of immunological memory in this way, vaccination prevents and controls the spread of a wide range of illnesses including polio, smallpox, whooping cough, measles, and the seasonal influenza virus. In recent years, there has been controversy over the safety of vaccination programs. To date, all credible scientific evidence strongly supports the importance of vaccination in avoiding preventable illnesses in individuals and populations.

On Vaccine Safety. The Andrew Wakefield Scandal

Measles, Mumps, Rubella Hepatitis, Pertussis. These are a handful of currently recommended and often required vaccinations. Most of us had the wonderful experience of getting prodded by needles at the doctor’s clinic and is not typically something we look forward to. Besides the minor pain associated with the shot, is there anything else to be afraid of?

It is undeniable that vaccination has had the positive effect of essentially eliminating smallpox and polio but there are some people particularly in the United States of America that question the safety of the practice. So just how safe are vaccines?

Perhaps, the most notable accusation or at least the ones supported by the most vocal minority is that vaccines have the potential to cause autism. This concern originated from the publication of one study in the prestigious medical journal, “The Lancet” (See Reference) in 1997. In this study, a British surgeon, Andrew Wakefield suggested the MMR vaccine was increasing the likelihood of autism in British children. Upon further investigation, however, the paper was retracted from The Lancet after it was discovered that Wakefield committed serious procedural errors, ethical violations and had received funding from groups opposing vaccination and vaccine manufacture. The study was completely discredited, and Wakefield lost his medical license over the scandal. However, to the medical community’s credit, they decided to take Wakefield’s hypothesis seriously and conducted further studies. Not one of them found any established link between MMR vaccine and autism. Despite the clear falsification of data to achieve a predetermined result, the public was whipped into a frenzy by the report. In the following years, vaccination rates plummeted by 80% in the UK. Since then this one study has been the root cause of severe damage, not only to the public perception of the MMR but also to the medical community as a whole. Money and resources that could have been spent investigating the true causes of autism were instead diverted to verify what medical journals later announced to be an elaborate fraud. In the years, since Wakefield study, the Center for Disease Control, the National Academy of Sciences and the UK National Health Service have all confirmed that there is no present link between vaccines and autism.

Prominent hoaxes aside, most safety concerns regarding vaccines are based upon the claim that they contain toxic substances such as formaldehyde mercury and aluminium. It is certainly true that these chemicals are deadly in sufficient doses but the amounts contained in FDA-approved are so minuscule that it might surprise you! Take formaldehyde, for example, according to the CDC and the FDA, the human metabolic system produces formaldehyde at a higher rate than is contained in any vaccine. Just to be thorough, let us look at every ingredient gives cautious people cause for concern Thimerosal, an organic mercury-containing compound. Thimerosal has been used as a preservative in vaccines since the 1930s. Today we find it only for flu shots. Such preservatives are necessary for protecting bacterial or fungal infections. Despite all the controversies that have arisen since the discovery of vaccines in the 1800s, their importance in curbing deadly illnesses and preventing the future population cannot be underscored.


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