Vaccines: Importance and Frequently Asked Questions

Right now, there is a large focus on the urgent need to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that currently has no approved treatment or immunization. This has brought an awareness to vaccine research and development, and just how important it is more than ever.

There is a lot of misinformation that circulates regarding vaccines and what immunization does, so here are a few of the frequently asked questions about vaccines, answered.

Why should we vaccinate?

Vaccines and childhood immunization are vital practices to protecting yourself, your children, and the entire population from contracting dangerous diseases and from preventing outbreaks and pandemics.

As we are experiencing now with COVID-19, pandemics are scary, life-changing and affect much more than just our health and daily lives. Vaccines protect against diseases that have the possibility to become pandemics, and by continuously vaccinating, it is even possible for diseases to become completely eliminated – for example, smallpox.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines create immunity in the body. When a virus infects the body, the immune system responds to this antigen with antibodies designed to fight it. The first time the body is infected with a specific antigen, the immune system must create those antibodies, which is why you get sick. But if that antigen infects you again, the immune system can recognize it, already has those antibodies, and can fight it off before you get sick.

Vaccines help this process by containing parts of the antigens that are weak enough to not infect you but are still strong enough to elicit an immune response – giving the body protection if ever exposed to this disease again in the future.

Do vaccines cause side effects? Are there risks?

Vaccines can cause minor side effects. These are usually very mild, like a sore arm at the site of the shot or a low-grade fever, and only last a few days. Like any medication or medical treatment, vaccines are clinically tested for safety and continuously monitored to ensure no adverse side effects are experienced. Also like any medication, some individuals may have a more serious reaction and need medical attention. But this is very rare. The protective benefits vaccines provide greatly outweigh the risks of side effects. As always though, discuss the risks and benefits vaccines provide with your doctor.

What diseases do vaccines prevent?

Vaccines protect against many dangerous viruses and diseases that without protection can have serious health consequences like disability or death. These include:

Chickenpox (Varicella), Diphtheria, Flu (Influenza)

Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b)

HPV (Human Papillomavirus, Measles, Meningococcal (Meningitis)

Mumps, Pneumococcal (Pneumonia), Polio (Poliomyelitis)

Rotavirus, Rubella (German Measles), Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Tetanus (Lockjaw), Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

What is Vaccine Research and Development?

Another important part of immunization is ongoing vaccine research and development. For example, COVID-19 was just introduced to humans this year– meaning no one had built-up immunity for it, nor was there a vaccine to protect against it. Currently, researchers, scientists, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies are working hard to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 so that people all over the world can be protected from this deadly disease.

What would a vaccine mean for COVID-19 specifically?

To date, COVID-19 has affected over one million people in the United States alone. As that number continues to rise across the nation and globe, researchers are hoping to develop a vaccine that would help treat the disease and limit its spread – a vital practice with a disease as contagious as COVID-19.

Vaccines, in general, are effective in limiting the spread of disease by providing immunity. When individuals are immune to a disease, they are unable to be infected by it, which means they will not be able to pass it on to others either.

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At MCCR, as a clinical site network, we play a vital role in the vaccine research and development process. At our sites, we conduct vaccine studies where vaccines can be clinically tested for safety and effectiveness for diseases like COVID-19 and more. All current vaccines once had to be put through clinical trials like the ones being conducted now.

Immunizations work and can help to save many lives. For more vaccine information, visit the following sites:

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/10-shouldknow.htm

https://www.who.int/immunization/research/en/

https://www.who.int/news-room/campaigns/world-immunization-week/world-immunization-week-2020/key-messages