How Do Vaccines Work & Why I Get Shot Every Year By My Doctor
Vaccinations! This article is about vaccinations (I’m from Chicago so getting shot is a sensitive subject). We all get our Flu shots every year in my household. I was infected by the actual Flu virus once in college and I truly thought I was dying. I literally thought it was the end. I was in the ER in New Orleans asking for my life to be saved.
More than my own experience with the Flu, I have taken care of three women in my career who made it to the Intensive Care Unit, requiring breathing tubes to stay alive because of Influenza. All three were pregnant and one of them died. None of these ladies had any prior medical conditions, and none of them were vaccinated.
Vaccines have garnered a bad reputation in the last few decades. The unsubstantiated autism argument is very familiar.* The, “flu vaccines give people the flu” argument is also common. I seek to bring new light and clarity to the subject.
So, how do vaccines work?
Vaccines are playbooks for your body.
When your body encounters a new virus, it is in the form of a protein, or antigen. If that protein makes it past your mucous membranes into your body, the body has to create antibodies to attack and remove it.
Imagine that you recognize a hostile intruder at your workplace. You have to tell the security office what they look like in order for the officers to find and remove them. Meanwhile the intruder is multiplying Matrix style, but the security office is still faxing pictures and descriptions of the intruder. What if the security office knew what that Matrix agent looked like before he walked into the door. He would be arrested in the lobby and not given time to multiply and overwhelm the staff. That is what a vaccine does. It circulates posters and memos all over your body so that when Agent Smith shows up, Neo is waiting in the lobby. It’s like having the other team’s playbook before the big game.
Live attenuated vaccines behave differently than inactivated ones.
A live attenuated vaccine is weakened so as to not cause disease and be killed easily, but is active enough to develop a full immune response that will teach all of your bodies “troops” to fight well. It’s like full pre-season training, or a whole self-defense course, rather than a single class or YouTube video. On the flip-side, live attenuated vaccines can cause mild viral symptoms like body aches and low grade fevers. Inactivated, or killed viruses, are less likely to cause those symptoms, but also don’t give the best-of-the-best immunity.
- Morbidity/mortality stats. Less than 30 years ago (1988), there were 350,000 new cases of Polio, causing crippling paralysis that occurred without hours. In 2004, there were less than 1300 cases worldwide. Influenza still kills within the United States and leads to large numbers of hospitalizations every year. A CDC article reported five million infections and three thousand deaths avoided by the Flu vaccine during the 2015-2016 season.
Some vaccinations, like Influenza, can be given to pretty much any population. Those most at risk are the elderly, people in a household with a child under two, those with compromised immune systems from HIV, diabetes, transplants etc., and pregnant women. Adults can easily miss boosters for Tetanus (Tdap), HPV (no booster but still missed), and Measles (MMR), among others.
As adults, we all make our own choices. My hope is that those choices are based on facts. Get Shot!