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Are Vaccines Effective? What SmartMoms Need To Know

Photo by Caroline Tran

When it comes to our children’s health, sugarcoating information is not something we’d take lightly. We want to know the truth, and we want it now. We want to know: are vaccines effective? And not just a little effective, but 100%! But before we tackle the effectiveness of vaccines, we have to first know what they are, and what they do. Firstly, vaccine is not interchangeable with vaccination.

Vaccine is any suspension containing antigenic molecules derived from a microorganism, given to stimulate an immune response to an infectious disease. Simplified version: it is the potion.    

Vaccination is the inoculation with any vaccine or toxoid to establish resistance to a specific infectious disease. Simplified version: it is the act of giving the vaccine – either via injection, drops, or aerosol.

What do vaccines really do?

Vaccines and vaccination are very important measures for children to receive immunity against common childhood communicable illnesses (measles, mumps, varicella or chickenpox) and other dangerous infections such as rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, pneumococcal pneumonia, H. Influenzae meningitis, and poliomyelitis.

The said illnesses are not just the ones vaccines ward off. The complications of the aforementioned illnesses – such as encephalitis, paralysis, brain damage, deafness, and even death – are also prevented.

Unlike bacteria, viruses (like the common cold cause by Rhinovirus) have no cure, which led to the creation of vaccines. Some vaccines are actually made from live viruses with reduced virulence. They are potent enough to provide artificially acquired active immunity, or the body’s ability to fight the disease. Others are inactivated and conjugate.

If a child is attacked by an antigen (measles, for example) again, the child’s body will automatically produce the antibodies needed for the specific antigen.

In other words, the role of vaccines is to make the body immune to the targeted diseases, and for some illnesses, this immunity is lifetime. Other vaccines, however, need to be given yearly.

Thank you for that Vaccine 101. But still, are vaccines effective?

Yes, but (here we go, there’s a ‘but’), it’s not the percentage we are all hoping for all the time. For a vaccine to be effective, certain factors have to be considered such as age, the person’s state of health upon vaccination, proper storage of the vaccine, and of course, FDA approval.

Vaccines have saved billions of lives ever since British physician Edward Jenner developed one to treat smallpox (which was declared eradicated in 1980 thanks to the vaccine). The table below indicates the decline in the number of people affected by the given diseases in the U.S. from the pre-vaccine years due to vaccines.

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Fast Vaccine Stats

  • Almost all kids younger than 15 suffered from measles before the measles vaccine was developed. There are only 60 reported cases in the US per year nowadays – most of which started elsewhere.
  • From 1963 until 1965, there was a worldwide outbreak of rubella or German measles. In the US, 11,000 babies perished and about 20,000 suffered birth defects. A big decline in the number of cases occurred when the rubella vaccine was licensed in 1969. In 2004, there were four cases reported.
  • Diphtheria affected around 200,000 people in the 1920s. In 2002, only one case was reported.
  • Prior to the pertussis vaccine in 1940, up to 100,000 people were affected each year. In 2013, it’s down to 28,000.
  • A polio epidemic occurred in the US during the late 40s until the early 50s. Due to the vaccine, the US has not had a single case since 1979. Though he probably could’ve made billions, Jonas Salk – the American virologist who developed the first successful polio vaccine – didn’t have the polio vaccine patented so that more can have access to it. 

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