Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Do children really need to get vaccinated?"
Is it really necessary for children to get vaccinated? My wife is in her third trimester so this is a decision we're going to have to think about making pretty soon - I just have never read of somebody getting rubella, you know? Is there actually a risk?
Yes. While there has been some discussion among popular entertainment and media figures, the medical community has remained united behind the recommendation that children, and adults, should be vaccinated against certain diseases. The logic behind this decision is based both on sound science and direct observation.
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First, the science: our bodies respond quickly to infections through many mechanisms, including the creation of antibodies. Antibodies are fashioned to be specific for each disease, but the process takes the body some time. Once the body has been exposed to a bacteria or a virus, the body "remembers" how to make that specific antibody, and even saves some of them in your blood. When the bacteria or virus comes by again, the body does not need to spend so much time preparing them. Vaccines are so effective because they help the body by exposing it to inactivated, killed, or just parts of a bacteria or virus that are not dangerous, allowing the body to quickly remove active and dangerous versions later. Second, direct observation: you mention rubella in your question. People seldom get rubella, just exactly because so many of us have been vaccinated. If no one gets sick, then there is no one to pass rubella (or polio, or smallpox, or other deadly bugs) around, and so all of us stay healthy. The more people are vaccinated, the less the disease is able to spread, until it eventually disappears (just like smallpox!). When people make the decision NOT to get vaccinated, they place not only themselves at risk, but also other people who are too young, too unhealthy, or no able to be vaccinated. So, in a sense, you could say that one person getting vaccinated protects all of us. (Scientists call this "herd immunity").
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