Each year in August, just in time for the new school year, National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), comes upon us. NIAM provides a moment to consider the improvements in quality and length of life we are afforded through immunization. It’s also a reminder for all of us to continue protecting ourselves and our loved ones from infectious diseases.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), immunization is the “process whereby a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by the administration of a vaccine.”
Now, you may be wondering what is in a vaccine. A vaccine is a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases. The vaccine usually includes some form of the disease, its products or an artificial substitute. The vaccine does not give us the disease, but instead encourages our body’s immune system to protect us against subsequent infection or that disease.
The invention of various vaccines has saved thousands of lives in the last two centuries alone. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that prior to the 1960s, diseases like whooping cough, polio, and measles struck hundreds of thousands of infants, children and adults in the U.S. Thousands died each year from these diseases before vaccines were developed and then widely used. An epidemic of rubella, also known as German measles, in 1964-65 infected 12½ million Americans, killed 2,000 babies, and caused 11,000 miscarriages. In 2012, due to strong immunization numbers, only nine cases of rubella were reported to CDC. Today, through the use of these vaccines, rates of the diseases noted above have dropped so low that many doctors have not seen a case in their practice.
Most diseases that have a corresponding vaccine, are spread from person to person. If one person in a community gets an infectious disease, he can spread it to others who are not immune. But a person who is immune to a disease because she has been vaccinated has minimal risk of getting the disease and can’t spread it to others. The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer opportunities a disease has to spread.
Although many people are aware of the need for immunization, there are still some vaccine-preventable diseases with numbers on the rise. As noted in a previous post, It’s World Hepatitis Day, there are several viruses, including Hepatitis and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that have proven connections to cancer. Several of these viruses are preventable through immunization, yet the vaccination numbers remain low for those most at risk.
Now it’s your turn. Help the Prevent Cancer Foundation raise awareness of the need for immunization across a lifetime. Talk to your primary doctor on all the vaccines available and when you should get one.
To learn more about viruses that have links to cancer, but can be prevented through vaccination, click here.
To spread the word about the benefits of immunization in your own family or community, find resources on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.