Vaccines: what’s the point?

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Photo by Patrick Goodman

It’s that time of year, readers! Your classmate is coughing, your roommate is sniffling and your professor is lecturing in the furthest corner away from the red-eyed students in the front row. Flu season is here, and with colds abounding on campus once again, the clinic in upstairs Haggar is now offering the annual vaccination for the flu.

Along with this vaccine comes the annual question voiced by many students across campus:

“Why bother to get a flu shot?”

And as the influence of homeopathic remedies and internet quick-fixes grows, as well as genuine concern over government involvement in health matters, many students and parents of the UD community are concerningly taking this question even further.

“Why bother getting vaccinated at all?” 

This struggle over vaccinations has become a growing issue in modern times, with many people finding themselves alienated on one side or the other of the debate. How do vaccines really work? Why do we even bother taking them as a Western post-plague society?

First, in order to understand why it might be a good idea to get this sort of shot, I’ve interviewed Dr. William Cody, our resident immunology professor in the biology department, to explain how vaccines work. 

“We can encounter infectious agents naturally or artificially, but either way, our body does a better job of fighting the disease if it has seen the disease before,” Cody said. 

Vaccines are meant to artificially introduce a disease that has already been killed or shredded so that our immune system can recognize it when encountering it again.“It’s much easier to prevent disease than to treat disease afterwards,” Cody said. 

Getting vaccinated increases your immune system’s reaction time and can prevent you from getting sick at all. 

So, what is the deal on the rise of refusals for vaccinations? The World Health Organization (WHO) released an article in 2010, pulled from studies done by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, addressing the six most common misconceptions about vaccination that have been spread around on the internet.  

The WHO summarily dismisses the claims that vaccines are unnecessary, pointing out that better hygiene and antibiotics have helped prevent disease, but deadly diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus will continue to adapt and thrive unless we continue to immunize the population against them.

The most common concerns about vaccines are the “findings” that claim vaccines do more harm than good, linking them to such afflictions as autism, autoimmune disorders and SIDS. 

The original 1998 scare study done on 12 children by the former Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues that linked the mumps-rubella vaccine with autism was later proven to contain falsified data and was discredited in the medical community. 

Since then, many people have attributed numerous coincidences, chance accidents and illnesses to vaccines, despite multiple studies conducted the world over to assure people that the shots are safe.

The WHO article states that “Statistically, a certain number of serious illnesses, even deaths, can be expected to occur by chance alone among children recently vaccinated.”

It would be irrational to assume any causation with such a correlation. Yet, the skepticism and misinformation continue. 

Another concern addressed by WHO is the supposed toxicity of vaccines. According to an article by the Institute for Global Health, worries about “chemicals” in vaccines are groundless. 

On a normal day we eat, breathe and circulate around our bodies more aluminum, formaldehyde and other chemical additives than we ever encounter in any single vaccine.

Most of the remaining anti-vaccine arguments, such as worrying about “overloading” someone’s immune system, or pointing out that mere modern sanitation can rid us of diseases just as well as vaccinations, can be dismissed by any biology student’s working knowledge of the millions of germs and diseases that one is exposed to on a day to day basis. In the end, there is no legitimate scientific reason not to get vaccinated.    

But, most UD students who object to vaccines do so on moral and personal grounds, claiming that it is indeed a personal choice to not get vaccinated. The rhetoric for this is very common:

“I’m not hurting anyone by not getting vaccinated, it’s my choice, my risk and I’m not worried about those diseases.”

To really get to the bottom of this objection, Dr. Cody gave me a deeper explanation of why  a healthy college student should bother to get vaccinated at all if most of these diseases are harmless. The answer was shocking. 

“Because of the success of our vaccination programs, we see much less infectious disease in the U.S., but for some people that has made us complacent, saying ‘these things don’t exist’ and ‘these things aren’t a concern’ when absolutely, these are life-threatening illnesses,” Cody said. 

Even if you don’t care if you die from an easily preventable disease, like the 2 million to 3 million who do every year according to the WHO, you should still get vaccinated, because, in the US, vaccines aren’t really given to protect you.

They’re for everyone else.

Dr. Cody said, “you have a responsibility to society to get vaccinated,” because of something called herd immunity. 

Herd immunity is the principle that, if a large percentage of the population is immunized, then it is far harder for a disease to spread if one person, by chance, becomes infected. It is paramount to not spread diseases to those who are immunocompromised, people who could be killed by these ‘non-lethal’ illnesses, such as “the pregnant, the unborn, the children too young to get vaccinated,” Cody said. 

“Because vaccine levels need to be above 90 to 95 % to provide herd immunity, it’s your obligation to get vaccinated, if you truly believe in protecting the immune vulnerable in our UD community,” said Cody. 

Vaccination is not just a personal choice. It is a grave responsibility, and those who choose not to get vaccinated are not only putting their own lives at risk, but also the people around them.  “If you can protect someone from a life-threatening illness, you should,” Cody said. 

So there you have it. Go get those shots and that flu vaccine, if only for someone else’s sake! 

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