Vaccines are one of the most important achievements in the history of medicine. Regular vaccinations can reduce the spread of contagious and deadly diseases and prevent devastating pandemics and public health crises.
Before the invention of vaccines, contagious diseases like smallpox and polio ripped through human populations across the globe, killing countless millions each year.
Some estimate that smallpox killed around 300 million people in the 20th century alone.
A Brief History of Vaccines
The word vaccine comes from the latin “vacca”, meaning “from cows”. Why?
An English doctor named Edward Jenner noticed that individuals who had a common illness known as Cowpox, or vaccinia, were less likely to become gravely ill from smallpox—a disease that plagued the world over for millennia.
He tested this theory by smearing infected material from a cowpox sore into an open wound on a young male subject.
The boy fell ill, but recovered and later showed immunity to smallpox when Jenner repeated the process on him with material from a smallpox sore.
However, Jenner was not the first person to notice the effectiveness of inoculation.
Historical evidence indicates that smallpox inoculation may have been practiced in China and India as early as 200 BCE in a process that involved crushing up smallpox scabs and blowing them into a subject’s nostrils.
How Vaccines Work
The body has several tools it uses to defend against disease pathogens. When one of these pathogens enters the body, an immune response is triggered and our body jumps into action, producing white blood cells and antibodies.
Each type of antibody is specialized to defend against a specific type of pathogen. If our immune system has never encountered a particular pathogen before it will need some time in order to “manufacture” an antibody that can destroy the pathogen.
This process may take too long, allowing the pathogen to multiply, attack our cells, and cause unmitigated damage or death.
Vaccinations use low, controlled doses of a virus to give our bodies time to train and create antibodies for a specific pathogen without the risk of death.
Immunizations for Children
Children need to be vaccinated early and on a schedule in order to develop lifelong immunizations against diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella.
You may need to vaccinate your child before they attend a public school, where highly infectious diseases spread like wildfire.
Some of the more common vaccines are:
- Hepatitis B
- Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR)
- Varicella (VAR)
- Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (TDAP)
- Poliovirus (IPV)
Immunizations for Older Adults
Unfortunately, keeping up on vaccinations is a lifelong task. As we get older, our immune systems get weaker and need a little extra help protecting our bodies from viral invaders.
The CDC recommends some of the following for elderly individuals:
Diseases like shingles and influenza can run rampant through vulnerable populations in nursing homes or senior living facilities. Make sure you’re up to date!
Immunizations for Travel
If you’re visiting a tropical country, you’ll likely need additional vaccines for diseases spread by mosquitoes, like Yellow Fever and take precautions for Malaria and Dengue Fever.
Most countries require or recommend routine vaccines like Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, and Rubella, and Polio, but be sure to check the CDC website or local health departments before embarking on a trip, as some flights require proof of vaccination before boarding.
Staying Up-to-Date on Your Vaccines
From flu shots and COVID-19 to measles and tetanus, there are a lot of vaccines to keep track of throughout our lifetimes. Your primary care provider can help you stay on top of vaccinations and provide proper documentation. If you’re not sure which vaccinations you have had or need, consult your Blue Sky MD Health provider at your next visit.