This post was written by ScIU undergraduate intern Autumn Shively.
Vaccines remain a hot topic in this country, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To understand the importance of why we should be vaccinated, we first must understand how the immune system responds to an infection. When a disease-causing microorganism, called a pathogen, is introduced into our bodies, our immune system is signaled to initiate an attack on this intruder. Specifically, our immune system will try to stop the pathogen from multiplying, which will prevent the pathogen from spreading and decrease the infection. To coordinate this attack, the immune system will recruit different types of cells, including macrophages, B-lymphocytes, and T-lymphocytes. These cells all work together to dismember the virus or bacteria that enter the body, and then remember this intruder using molecules, called antigens, that are left behind. This response allows our immune cells to be alert and ready if the pathogen was to enter the body again and ensures that next time, the pathogen will be quicker and easier to attack.
Vaccines imitate this initial introduction of a foreign pathogen in the body, since they typically contain the pathogen in a weakened or dead form. Therefore, vaccines allow our bodies to fight off the pathogen more easily by activating or refreshing the antigen recognition within our memory cells, so that we are prepared to find and fight off the same pathogen as soon as it enters our bodies again.
Vaccines are beneficial not only to individuals, but also to society. With initial recognition from vaccines, our bodies can be prepared for diseases without being directly exposed to them and risking a dangerous infection. Vaccines allow us to easily fight off pathogens before they multiply and become harder for our immune system to fight. Thus, vaccines not only save us energy, but also time and money. Vaccines allow us to circumvent time-consuming hours spent lying in bed and feeling dreadful, and the cost of a vaccine is small compared to hospitalization.
We may not think of it much now, but those who have been through the pain of the diseases we receive vaccinations for can say how awful these illnesses can really be. If we did not have this type of preventative care, we would often become ill with diseases such as polio or smallpox, which devastated entire communities in the past, but are no longer a problem today. Sometimes, we can forget how far we have come from the days in which people did not have the option or the choice to get vaccinated. Today, many diseases cannot spread due to the help of vaccines and the participation of most individuals in societies.
Society benefits from the act of people getting vaccinated. Vaccination protects others that may be vulnerable to the disease, such as infants and immunocompromised individuals. The ultimate goal of vaccines is herd immunity, which is the idea that to maintain a healthy immunity and environment, people should be vaccinated to protect others. For example, if we were to stumble upon a neighborhood in which most people were vaccinated for the measles and an infected individual from outside of the community entered, then the measles would be less likely to spread among the residents. In a contrasting scenario, if the same situation was to happen in a community of unvaccinated people, then the measles would begin to spread like wildfire among the residents once an infected individual entered the neighborhood. When considering vaccination, we must think of others, because some people may not have a strong immune system and may not be able to get vaccinated. Whatever the case may be, we as individuals are able to play an important role in making society a safer place. We were able to eradicate smallpox with the simple notion of vaccines, so why not push forward with others?
Five Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child | Vaccines. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.vaccines.gov/get-vaccinated/for_parents/five_reasons.
Hendrix, K. S., Sturm, L. A., Zimet, G. D., & Meslin, E. M. (2016). Ethics and Childhood Vaccination Policy in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 106(2), 273–278. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2015.302952
Winchester Hospital. (2017). What Are Vaccines? | Winchester Hospital. Retrieved from https://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=222982.