For most people, the first step of their vaccination journey began long before they knew the meaning of the word. Even as adults, it is easy to receive or arrange for your children to receive routine vaccinations without understanding the science behind your actions. Here at St. Luke’s Medical, you can receive both routine and travel vaccinations from our highly trained and gentle staff. If you would like to better understand the science of vaccination before your appointment, then this article is for you.
How Do Vaccines Work?
The immune system naturally functions even without the aid of vaccines, protecting the body against pathogens that could lead to infection and illness. However, your immune system is only capable of defending against pathogens that it already recognizes as harmful. Vaccination is a way of training your immune system to recognize a previously unencountered pathogen as harmful to the body. To do this, a safe form of the disease called the antigen is typically injected into the body. Thus the antigen is usually a weakened pathogen, a deceased or inactive bacteria, or materials from the surface of a pathogen.
In addition to the antigen, vaccines also frequently include an adjuvant. The adjuvant is more or less a red flag, signaling to the immune system that the antigen is dangerous. Thus when the immune system encounters a vaccine, it quickly recognizes the new pathogen as harmful to the body. In response, the immune system begins to build an adaptive immune response and primes immune cells to remember the new disease so as to respond more quickly to it in the future.
The Benefits of Vaccination
While individuals certainly benefit from vaccination due to increased immunity, vaccines do not only benefit the individual. When enough people receive vaccinations, all of society benefits through herd immunity. Herd immunity is when so many people are immunized against a given pathogen that it becomes extremely unlikely that the few unprotected people will ever come into contact with someone carrying the disease. Indeed, the impact of many diseases which used to be common causes of illness and death such as whooping-cough, measles, tetanus, and polio has been greatly reduced through widespread vaccination.
Aren’t Vaccines Just for Kids?
While childhood certainly includes several rounds of routine vaccination, it is important for everyone to keep their vaccine record current. Two key examples are tetanus and influenza. In order to remain protected, adults need a Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster shot every ten years. Additionally, the CDC recommends that all people receive the influenza vaccine at the beginning of each flu season. Despite the widespread availability, convenience, and affordability of the flu vaccine, however, around 60 percent of Americans don’t receive their annual flu shot according to the CDC. Since avoiding routine vaccinations puts you and those around you at greater risk of disease, what are you waiting for? Talk to your provider at St. Luke’s Medical to ensure that your vaccine record is and remains current.