A fundamental part of parenting is making decisions for our children. Until they become mature, educated adults who can make informed choices, it’s up to us. That’s particularly true of their health and welfare, which we protect and promote from the moment they’re born.
When we keep our kids from harm, we can rely on our instincts to some extent. Making sure they are healthy requires just a little knowledge and a lot of common sense. We give them nourishing foods, make sure they play outside, get some exercise, wrap-up in cold weather, and wear sunblock.
What can seem more challenging is making a proactive decision. Vaccines are one of the choices in our lives that might give us pause. Are we doing the best thing for our children if we get immunizations? What happens if we don’t?
The key to making this choice as instinctive as the others is to make sure we are informed. We can all agree that we need more than a little knowledge and common sense to proceed here. In this article, we take a look at how vaccines work and the arguments for and against them. We want to provide enough information to help you draw your own conclusions.
How Vaccines Work
Vaccines are created to prevent diseases, especially dangerous ones, that can severely impact our health. When our children are born, their immune systems can fight off some germs. However, they aren’t fully developed yet, which is why they might need some help.
Pathogens are organisms that can cause disease when they enter our bodies. Our immune systems react to the pathogen to fight and kill it. However, if our immune systems haven’t fully developed yet, as with children, or we’ve never fought this disease before, our bodies might struggle to resist it.
The antigen, which is part of the pathogen, causes our systems to create antibodies. They do the fighting on behalf of our bodies but could be slow to respond if our immune systems aren’t ready. In that case, we get ill. The next time we encounter that same disease, our existing antibodies are usually there to fight it off.
Vaccines help us skip the part where we struggle to fight the disease and get ill. They contain inactive or weak antigens, or sometimes just the right content to make an antigen, inciting our systems to create the antibodies necessary for fighting it off. When large numbers of adults and kids are vaccinated, it means many of us are protected against the disease, and we achieve immunity on a larger scale. Like those with cancer, some people can’t receive a vaccine, but they’re less likely to catch the disease if the risk is reduced via immunity in others.
Risks and Responsibilities
As parents, we need to keep our children safe and healthy. For some, that’s an obvious argument for vaccination, while others see it as a strong point against it. We can compare immunization to other safety precautions, like wearing a seatbelt. We hope we don’t get into an accident, but the one time we do, we’ll want our children to be wearing their seatbelts.
Dangerous and deadly diseases exist, so if we don’t vaccinate our children, they’re more at risk of catching them and becoming ill. We also have a responsibility to society, where getting a vaccine can improve our community’s overall immunity. However, we’re here to protect our children, which means we need to make sure that any immunizations are safe for them to have.
The injections that are a big part of immunizations are a short but painful moment for our kids. The fear of needles and pain is not the only concern on the minds of many parents. We’ll answer two of the most common questions about vaccine risks:
What about the side effects?
The main worry for you as a parent is any potential side effects from the injection. Most vaccines carry a risk of minor side effects, including fever, swelling, and soreness. Major risks, like severe reactions or even death, are infrequent enough to be negligible, and there are very few documented cases. Vaccines are continually improving, meaning we don’t always need to use live organisms, and the number of antigens required has significantly reduced over time, minimizing risk even further.
These diseases aren’t common; aren’t we doing more harm?
You might not know anyone who caught polio or mumps, but these diseases still exist. They can be more prevalent in other countries and are easily brought back by travelers. Once they’re active in a community, they can spread, and vaccines are one of the best ways to stop this.
Unknown and Unnatural
Immunizing your children requires you to put your trust in other people. Namely, the ones who made the vaccine and those who administer it. Adding a substance to your child’s body can seem scary; it may even feel unnatural. It’s normal to want the best for our children, which is why we might need to ask questions and do some research.
Here are some things you can do to better understand the vaccines your child could have:
- Read about FDA approval and vaccine testing phases;
- Find out about the diseases they prevent;
- Talk to your healthcare provider about the procedure, risks, and contents of a vaccine;
- Learn about how vaccines have improved health and survival rates.
Prevention or Treatment
Vaccines are a form of prevention. One of the strongest arguments for vaccination is that many diseases don’t have cures or effective ways to manage the severity. Diseases like polio, measles, and mumps don’t have proven treatments. However, they do have worrying consequences, such as paralysis, brain damage, and hearing loss.
Other diseases like tetanus are not transmitted in the community but can come from the soil. Just a small amount of contact with a cut on your child’s hand can result in an infection, which could be fatal. A vaccine could be the right choice to keep your child safe.