It has become a common story in the news and papers about how people, mostly children are contacting and dying of diseases. The most surprising thing is that most of these diseases are preventable by using immunization. One may ask the reasons that can make parents not to have their children immunized. Is it ignorance, religious beliefs or carelessness? For whatever reasons that could be, can they be strong enough? Why would people let themselves or their children catch and spread a deadly disease at the expense of immunization? Is immunization necessary? These and many more are some of the questions people need to ask themselves when they are talking about immunization.
Immunization is a process by which a person’s immune system becomes strengthened against immunogens. The immunogen is an agent that is capable of inducing an immune response. Immune response, on the other hand, is the way your body recognizes and defends itself from foreign and harmful substances as viruses, bacteria and so forth. The body has its own way of protecting itself from harmful substances and these, per se, can be considered the reason why it takes more than the obvious to catch an infection or a disease. When the body gets exposed to foreign molecules, the immune system triggers an immune response. The body has also an immunological memory that enables it to develop the ability to fight back to a subsequent encounter. When an animal gets exposed to the immunogen in a controlled way, it develops a mechanism of protecting itself referred to as active immunization. Passive immunization happens when these elements get introduced directly into the body (UNICEF, 43).
Infectious and contagious diseases like tetanus, measles, Haemophilus influenza, pertussis among others kill so many people every year. This is a particularly sad and shameful thing not worth mentioning considering that all these diseases can be easily prevented by means of immunization. Immunization is a remarkably safe and effective way of preventing severe diseases caused by viruses and other infectious organisms; it also increases the amount of antibodies (Kassianos, 76). There are various techniques of doing immunization with the most common method being vaccination. Vaccines prepare the body against disease causing microorganisms. This helps the body to prevent and fight infections. Long before the advent of immunization people became immune to certain common diseases through contacting the disease and surviving it. Immunization brought less risky and easier ways of becoming immune to these diseases. Some diseases have also been eradicated in some regions of the world (Leach and Fairhead, 43).
At one point or the other it is the duty of parents to make decisions that concern their children, and decisions about health are difficult decisions to make. Just as John Henry Cardinal Newman said, “Health of body and mind is an absolute blessing, if we can bear it”, it is thus clear that these health decisions are hard to make but they are far much, worth making. It is the pride of every parent to make the right choices as well as do what is in the best interests of their children (Ross, 112). The big question, however, is, do parents know the right and the best choice to make when it comes to matters relating to the health of their children?
World Health Organization (WHO) has taken a lot of initiatives towards promoting vaccinations. Newborns are on the biggest risk to many infectious diseases. Many of these diseases can be prevented if timely decisions are taken immediately. In many countries, including the United States, parents should have their children vaccinated before taking them to school. Good health of a child does not rule out the chances of contacting a disease, and this is one of the reasons why vaccination is extremely vital. Parents who do not vaccinate their children normally are regarded as negligent. One may ask himself whether negligence is failure to vaccinate your child, or not looking at the side effects that may be brought about by vaccinating your child.
Vaccination risk perception is highly dependent on people’s knowledge and experiences. People who have experienced adverse events after vaccination, or have had encounters with people who have had unfortunate experiences with vaccination, will normally perceive vaccination as riskier than others. Public anxieties and vaccines misconceptions continue to pose a challenge on immunization programs. Prevention of anxieties about vaccines is also an extremely critical aspect of the whole process of vaccination (Public Health Agency of Canada, 79). WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, for example, tries to address the misinformation and misconception that undermines vaccination efforts by regularly reviewing and monitoring vaccine safety. The advisory committee also ensures that accurate and relevant information on adverse events gets to the public. Getting routine vaccinations to people who need them still remains a significant public health challenge in developing nations. The main barriers include lack of healthcare infrastructure and the cost and delays that occur between the introduction of vaccines in developed countries and their introduction in developing countries. However, despite these challenges, global vaccination has gone to a sizeable length due to scientific research.
Today, many parents have not seen a child choke to death from diphtheria, or a child paralyzed as a result of polio, or one with a brain damaged by measles. The fear of vaccine preventable diseases has tremendously gone down while vaccine safety concerns have gone exceptionally high. These safety concerns come at a time when some of the available vaccines are even safer than a decade ago. Lack of information about vaccine effectiveness and safety will always create confusion among parents who are making immunization decisions for their children. This, without any doubt, can have adverse consequences.
Vaccine Safety Concerns and Risk Perception
There is no vaccine that is a hundred percent safe or effective. Just like any other drugs, there are risks and negative effects associated with the use of vaccines (Network, 34). Serious side effects are, however, rare. Some of the reasons why the standard of safety expected from the use of preventive vaccines as compared to drugs are that: vaccines are generally given to healthy people. Healthy people are on less risk of being affected by any side effects of vaccination as the immunity level is still high. Most of the vaccines should be given to children at their tender age when developmental, and other disorders are appearing for the first time. It is also critical to note that coincidences of events do not always mean causative effect. This is to say, when a child contacts more than one infection at the same time it does not imply causative effect. It may just be a coincidence of infections which are not even related. When the body is weakened by one infection, the immunity is weakened, and it becomes susceptible to other infections.
Some vaccines get mandated and legalized by state legislatures for the whole aim of protecting the welfare and health of the public. This is an act perceived as a violation of civil rights, but, on the other hand, research findings show that people respond better to some risks as compared to other risks. For example, risks affecting adults may be better tolerated as compared to those affecting children. Adults are more resistant to infections than children for other biological reasons. Even though, many of the concerns about vaccine safety are necessary and probably valid, it is advisable to examine each claim carefully. This will involve trying to find out whether the claims rely on scientific data, or else they are a matter of opinion.
Parents can always make timely decisions when they get valid, scientifically supported information. Parents need to have access to accurate and evidence based information to be able to understand the risks and complications involved. Without this information, many parents tend to develop a sense of security that is false making them regard immunization as less important. Taking the example of measles; measles is one of the most communicable diseases; it has many complications and may even cause severe brain damage. However, it is uncommon among many communities making parents not to see the need of vaccinating their children against measles. As a result, there is low immunization rate. If the rate of vaccination in a community is low, many children not excluding those who earlier received immunization find themselves exposed to risk. The world has now become a global village, and with the high rate at which people are travelling, transfer of an infection or disease from one place to another happens before even people notice it is happening. People move from one continent to another, from one village to another each and every minute. If people relied on the prevalence of diseases in their area of residence, the world would then become an unsafe place to live.
Misinformation (False or Misleading Information)
There is widespread use of vaccines, a factor that makes people blame them for most of the diseases experienced. Misinformation may also be in the form of disseminating false information. False information not only makes people confused but also develops an attitude against vaccination. Deceiving information may be easily passed through the internet. There are some websites, for example, that are against the immunization of children and infants. In these websites, there is the expression of claims that cannot be scientifically proven. There also exist anti vaccination movements in the society which have also had a negative impact on the whole vaccination campaign.
If one is keen, it is, though not real easy, to distinguish between misinformation and reliable, valid information. Misinformation includes one or more of the below listed elements: Invalid assumptions constitute an example of misinformation. These are things or information believed to be true yet it is, in fact, not true. An example of an invalid assumption is where parents take the immunization of children against hepatitis B as unimportant, yet it is truly crucial. Hepatitis B is not a common disease; some parents do not even have a clue of some of the symptoms of this disease (Egendorf, 86). It is, however, a dreadful disease.
Fallacies meant to present an argument as logical constitute another form of misinformation. If there is a flaw in an argument that makes it invalid or illogical, the flaw constitutes a logical fallacy. Some of these fallacies include the claim that a statement is true and valid, just because it has not been proven right, or claims that a statement is false because it is yet to be proven. Health decisions are so crucial that, it can be extremely dangerous to rely on information from a non-verified source.
Pseudoscience is particularly common in research, yet it can have serious repercussions. In research, findings should be verified when a similar research is carried out. This is because research findings should be measurable. If claims are pseudoscientific, it means they cannot be verified by any other researcher as they are not measurable and always ambiguous. Sometimes, the methods used give predetermined results. This may be achieved by presenting data that support the claim while discarding conflicting data.
Lack of expertise in a particular field also comes with certain setbacks. An expert in one field may be totally ignorant in another field, but it is so unfortunate that people make claims that are outside their field without looking at the impact this may cause. Ad hoc hypothesis can also be related to the aforesaid challenge of lack of expertise. This is an explanation that does not at all concur with the original theory (Egendorf, 93).
It is the responsibility of every person to weigh out the information on disposal to be able to discover what is true and valid from false, non-verifiable information in order to make a decision from a well-informed point. With the vast changing world and foremost evolutions of the internet, there is a lot of information already on the disposal, and it should be clearly known that not all the information is true or valid.
There should be a commitment from all levels of society to have a successful vaccination program; from the community up to the healthcare personnel. Mothers should know the process of getting vaccination for their children. There should be well trained staff or else health workers who have commitments and take immunization as a responsibility.
Benefits of Vaccines
Last already mentioned in this paper, vaccines are among the most cost effective and successful means of preventing diseases, disability and even death. Vaccines prevent a vaccinated person from contacting a potentially deadly disease as well as preventing the whole community at large through the reduction of the spread of infectious diseases. Most of the childhood ailments are infectious. Diseases like cholera, diphtheria, whooping cough, and measles can be spread extremely easily from one child to another. Such epidemics may be avoided through children immunization (Neustaedte, 57). Vaccines save a nation a lot of money. This is the indirect cost that is likely to be incurred if there is an attack of vaccine preventable disorders. Vaccines reduce loss of lives as well as the direct cost of giving, for example, care to a child with a rubella syndrome. There are a lot of cost savings directly associated with death, work loss, and disability (Egendorf, 13).
Vaccine safety can be achieved by building upon on what I currently underway. For example, improved epidemiology and surveillance capacity will allow education and enhanced education. Enhanced communication, on the other hand, will improve the quality of surveillance by encouraging the reporting of adverse events.
New research in the development of vaccine should also be directed towards the provision of new tools; tools that will help us prevent additional diseases that continue posing threats to children and elderly people. Improved safety assessment program is valuable in this era when we have so many vaccines available for use (Teunissen, 33).
Many parents have been raising concerns that too many vaccinations of their children at their tender age cause autism. However, scientific research has proven this not to be true. The dangers of not vaccinating are far much hazardous compared to the side effects that can emanate from vaccination.
If every person accepted to be vaccinated, the world could eventually become independent of the vaccines since genetics of the parent would be passed to the future generations. The government would then focus on other deadly issues as Cancer and AIDS. Choosing not to vaccinate your child puts many who cannot chose for themselves at risk. When a parents decisions cause children of 6 months or so to die out of illnesses that can be easily prevented, it becomes critical for the government to step in and give mandates. Governments in many states have made smoking in public places illegal. This is not because everybody who may inhale cigarette smoke will catch cancer, but it is because there is a possibility that one may contact cancer (Egendorf, 113). Spread of cancer through cigarette smoking is not different from spread of vaccination preventable diseases. An unvaccinated child is a carrier to diseases; these diseases will eventually attack others with a weak immune system resulting to death in some situations.
In communities where vaccination rates are exceptionally high, risks of members getting exposed to pathogens is remarkably low. Some members may, however, decide to get vaccinated due to the low risk involved. Individuals who refuse to get vaccinated on the basis of such arguments may be termed as free riders. If free riders increase tremendously, the benefit of herd immunity will eventually be lost, and the whole community will get exposed to the risks (Tasian, 101). An increased outbreak of preventable diseases among the unvaccinated clearly indicates that relying on herd immunity is a poor strategy that should be long forgotten.
So What If a Child Does Not Receive Immunization?
Immunization will always work best if all the people get immunized. There are people who would still argue that the benefits of vaccinating children do not outweigh the risks. It is true that there are unvaccinated children who are much healthier than the vaccinated kids, but can this observation be relevant enough to rule out the value of vaccination? This form of doubt may be cleared by looking at the real value of vaccination. Vaccination is not only a family issue, it affects the whole society at large and thus there should be a social responsibility to enable the whole program to succeed.
Looking at the recent case of swine flu, it is a deadly disease and can kill someone within a short time. Immunization is an effective tool towards prevention of the outbreak and spread of swine flu. It is still not precise why it is much more likely to catch the flu during the winter season than at any other period of the year (Tasian, 87). However, the fact that it spreads highly during the winter season should be a wake=up call for more vaccination during this season, than at any other season.
Many arguments may be raised for and against immunization. The benefits of vaccination always override the otherwise according to world vaccination statistics. Parents and the whole community should take it as a social responsibility that every person especially children get vaccinated against any deadly diseases. The government on its part should oversee necessary facilitation, and there should be enough health workers. The public should be provided with adequate education to ensure there is total understanding, which results into cooperation. Through these efforts, the world will be a better place to live. The rate of child mortality will drastically reduce. Children will also be protected from preventable disabilities. All this things will also reflect in the economy of a nation; fewer funds will be budgeted for the provision of medical services and the economy may grow at a faster rate.