The issue of vaccination has been one of the most difficult questions for parents. While most parents are typically content to follow recommendations by their country's health organizations, some important questions do arise. For those who are trying to find solutions, it can soon become obvious there are no easy, straightforward answers. The multitude of available information on this subject is frequently confusing in itself, not to mention conflicting.
World Opinions on Vaccinations Vary
While there is no doubt that vaccination has been an important medical achievement and an effective way to prevent illness, there are still those who question its efficacy and need in today's world. Most of the questions deal with the nature of human beings and the ultimate significance of health and illness.
At the present time, vaccinations are widely promoted around the globe with the overall aim of eradicating as many infectious diseases as possible. While the World Health Organization (WHO) provides guidelines and recommendations , each country determines its own recommendations regarding national vaccine programs.
In Europe, recommendations regarding vaccines still vary regarding the type and timing of the inoculations. In most European countries, vaccination is voluntary except where extreme public health circumstances dictate intervention. Even in these countries, strong recommendations and encouragements are made to vaccinate.
For example, studies have shown that in order to protect against measles, more than 90 percent of the population must be vaccinated to avoid an epidemic. Most health care practitioners agree that the ultimate aim should be a balance between the benefit to the public and to the individual.
Making a Responsible Decision
While the subject of vaccination is still debated today, it has become obvious that different perspectives frequently conflict with one another. Modern societies tend to view illnesses as mildly dangerous, or at the least, inconvenient and troublesome. This outlook can interfere with effective vaccination programs.
Many individuals still view vaccinations as an effective means of avoid or eradicating certain illnesses, but other people stress the usefulness of some diseases, as well as the risks of vaccines.
Parents should evaluate the risk of not vaccinating a child, leading to possible illness with potential, sometimes deadly, complications, versus the risk of potential side effects of the vaccination.
The issues not frequently considered in such cases are related to the potential benefits of certain infectious illnesses which occur during childhood. Considerations can include the development of the immune system or the possible connections with other illnesses later in a person's life.
Childhood Disease and Childhood Development
Some health care practitioners think of childhood disease as an important factor in promoting the child's development during the first 6 or 7 years of life. In this case, the child's development is thought to be based upon influences stemming from inheritance as well as the environment, and the belief that childhood diseases allow the child to moderate and transform such influences.
Parents in this group believe their child's attitude toward life, their social skills and their overall health constitution have changed positively because they suffered from a childhood illness and recovered. Two such illnesses they particularly mention here are measles or whooping cough.
Immune System Maturation
Children are born with what is known as an "inborn immune system," which is able to protect the child from birth onwards. However, from their first day of life that child also develops an adaptive immune system. This system constantly adapts and learns to recognize what to ignore and what to defend against. The adapative immune system learns how to recognize individual bacteria and viruses that have the potential of making the body ill and fights these organisms, while also learning not to battle the "good" parts of the body that keep a person healthy.
Vaccinations affect the adpative immune system, which is balanced between Th1 and Th2 reactions. (Th stands for T-Helper Cells, which form part of the white blood cells).
When a virus enters a person's body it attaches itself to the surface of a cell and injects its RNA or DNA into the cell. It then forces the cell to create new virus cells inside the host cell by making use of the cell's own DNA. When the cell has become full of the new virus cells it disentegrates, allowing the new virus cells to spread through the body and infect other cells.
Newly-formed Th cells can develop into Th1 or TH2 white blood cells, which become active to control the viral infection. Th1 cells kill bodily cells that are infected with the virus, while Th2 cells start to produce an antibody specific to the virus.
The balance between Th1 and Th2 responses are important for the body to maintain good health. The adaptive immune system learns how to respond during the first six months of life, and this period seems to be the most important and defining period for establishing how the person's immune system will react in the future.
To be concise: it seems to be beneficial for a child to become infected with a number of colds and minor illnesses while they are young.
The Effectivenss is Still Questioned
Vaccinations predominantly stimulate a Th2 response in the body, since the function of vaccination is to produce antibodies against disease.
However, many medical researchers claim to have discovered that not every response can be explained by the theory of a Th1 and Th2 immune system balance. Some scientists say this methodology does not explain why there seems to be a simultaneous inrease in diseases that are caused by a "disturbed" Th1 response, such as diabetes, cancer and auto-immune diseases.
- Ada, G.L. (2000).Vaccination : the facts, the fears, the future. Sydney, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin
- Godfrey, M. & Anderson, R. (2002). Exploding the myth of vaccination. Tauranga : R. Anderson
- Scheibner, V. (1993). Vaccination : 100 years of orthodox research shows that vaccines represent a medical assault on the immune system. Blackheath, NSW : V. Scheibner
- Studer, Hans-Peter. (2010). Vaccination : a guide for making personal choices. Edinburgh : Floris
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History of Vaccination
It was observed by people of ancient civilizations that those who survived being stricken by an infectious disease almost never suffered a second attack. Thucydides recorded centuries before the birth of Christ that when a plague was raging through Athens, there would have been no one to nurse the sick and dying if it had not been for the people who had already had the plague but had recovered from it.
As far as health care practitioners are concerned, only those illnesses caused by an influenza virus should be termed flu, as opposed to gastric upsets or colds. There are three types of influenza virus: A, B and C, typically of which only type A is dangerous.
Measles is a common childhood disease, just like German measles (rubella), mumps or whooping cough. The measles virus is transmitted when an infected person coughs or exhales droplets. Measles are very infectious.
Mumps is one of several classic childhood diseases that ran rampant before the introduction of vaccination programs. The illness is caused by a virus transmitted by exhaled droplets from someone who is infected and lasts for anywhere from 7 to 10 days. Mumps is typically quite harmless and in a third of the cases does not even show any symptoms of illness.
Rubella is an acute, typically mild viral disease which is transmitted through airborne droplets from infected people when they cough or sneeze. This disease usually affects children and young adults.
Side Effects of Vaccinations
Vaccines are held accountable to vey high levels of reliability and safety. Because of this, they should have very few side effects while guaranteeing long-lasting and good immunity. To ensure this type of quality is consistently met, vaccines are subjected to human and animal trials before they are officially registered.