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Why vaccinations (really) work

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The body’s immune system is essential at keeping infections from germs at bay, but this is not always a given. Similar to how Popeye gets strength from spinach to defeat his enemies, vaccinations work by strengthening our immunity in its fight against infections.

How do Vaccinations work? 

Vaccines introduce small amounts of germs (harmless to our overall well-being) to our immune system, via an injection, to let our body naturally develop an immune response to it. This is when our body learns to recognise the germ, and the methods to defeat it. So that one day, in the case of an attack by the true germ from our environment, our body is capable of defeating it, preventing us from falling sick. 

Even if you lead a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly and eating well, you might still be incapable of fighting an infectious disease that you have never been exposed to before, and that may lead to dangerous complications. Vaccination is, hence, a relatively harmless, and simple way to ensure that you are protecting yourself from these diseases. 

Moreover, vaccination can be seen as our social responsibility. With more in the community being vaccinated and protected, “herd immunity” arises within a population. This indirect protection for people not immune to the disease yet, comes about with vaccination causing less people to become sick because of the disease, and hence, lower spread throughout the community. 

What Are the Side Effects of Vaccines? 

The side effects of most vaccines are mild, and will go away on their own. Some people do not even experience any side effects. The most common are:

  • Pain, redness, swelling and tenderness at injection-site for a few days
  • Mild, low-grade fevers 

Most clinics will also advise patients to remain at the clinic for 30 minutes for supervision of any allergic reactions like rashes. Allergic reactions, unless declared by the patient himself, are unpredictable and may be attributed to any ingredient in the vaccine itself. 

If you experience more serious side-effects a while later, like high-grade fevers, go to a doctor as soon as possible and inform them of your vaccination history. Side effects of certain vaccinations may also be more pronounced if you have a compromised immune system or are sick at the time of taking the vaccine. 

Always declare your health status before taking any vaccinations, and ensure that proper medical advice is sought to ensure that vaccination is suitable and safe for yourself. 

What Are the Different Types of Vaccines Available?

Vaccination schedules for children are well-established and highly encouraged. But there are also adult vaccines which are equally as important. Some of these vaccines are given in different doses according to a specified time-frame to ensure efficacy. Below are some of the more commonly prescribed vaccines. 

  • Influenza 

This vaccine protects us against the viruses that cause the common cough, cold and flu. This virus is usually spread through respiratory droplets or secretions from the respiratory tract. Despite its seemingly common symptoms, an infection can lead to more severe complications. They include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections and meningitis. Because this virus evolves rapidly, it is recommended to get an influenza vaccine, at least once every year. This can help protect yourself from the evolving strains of the virus. 

  • Hepatitis B

The Hepatitis B virus affects the normal function of the liver, which can lead to inflammation, liver failure and even liver cancer. The vaccination provides complete protection from this virus. The vaccine is normally given in 3 doses: at birth, 1 month and 6 months. 

  • Rotavirus

This virus causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, and fever in children. The child becomes dehydrated and needs hospitalisation. The vaccine gives protection from this virus. Rotavirus vaccine should be given in three doses at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months from birth. 

  • TDaP

This is a 3-in-1 vaccine that protects three types of infection – Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis. This vaccine is administered in four doses at the 2, 4, 6 and 15 months from birth.

Tetanus is an infection that affects the nervous system, tightening the muscles, particularly the jaw and neck which can eventually lead to difficulty breathing and death. It is usually contracted through cuts and wounds. 

Diphtheria causes a thick build up at the back of the throat and causes difficulty breathing, respiratory failure, heart failure, paralysis and death. It spreads through contact with the droplets of an infected person. 

Pertussis results in a symptom called “whooping cough” caused by the excessive buildup of mucus in the airways, which makes breathing difficult. It may result in pneumonia, seizures or brain damage and is spread through respiratory droplets too. 

  • Pneumococcal 

Pneumococcal vaccine protects against meningitis and blood infections caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae . This vaccine has different dosing schedules depending on your age, and immunity status. Consult your doctor for more specific information. 

  • MMR

MMR is another combination vaccination, given in 2 doses to protect against measles, mumps and rubella. 

Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease spread through droplets that can manifest as a high fever with small white dots developing inside the mouth and a rash that can spread all over the body. Complications include permanent disabilities like hearing impairment from ear infections, pneumonia, intellectual impairment from encephalitis, and even death. 

Mumps has a very characteristic symptom of puffed cheeks as a result of swelling of the salivary glands. Other symptoms include pain while chewing and swallowing, fever, headaches, muscle aches, weakness, and loss of appetite. 

Rubella is also known as German measles, which is similar to the symptoms described above, but in a much milder form. 

This list is not exhaustive and there are various other vaccines, specific to your region. Find out more from a professional. 

If you are from Singapore, and would like more information on the various prices, subsidies, schedules and booking of appointments for vaccines, you may visit this site

If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, an immunologist answers them here

The World Health Organisation estimates that vaccinations can prevent 2-3 million deaths every year. Unfortunately, there have been naysayers, harping on the dangers of administering vaccines. For example, one of the largest arguments is that vaccines cause autism in children. Of which there is no scientific proof for that, but so much more evidence for the benefits of administering vaccines. Visit your doctor now and protect yourself and your loved ones by getting vaccinated. 

 

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