By Varsha Shankar
November 21, 2020
Growing up, I was scared to death of getting shots. Every time I had to go to the dreaded doctor’s office for the annual flu shot, I would be panicking fervently and praying that somehow, it would get cancelled. This led me to the question: are vaccines even necessary? The answer to that question is yes. Vaccines are highly necessary to protect us from developing various diseases with adverse symptoms.
How Do Vaccines Work?
The short answer is that vaccines cause antibodies to develop.1 They inject antigens, or molecules that trigger immune responses, into your body. After these antigens are injected, our body creates antibodies to fight the antigen. The purpose of vaccines is to train our bodies to respond to viruses and combat them.2
Why Are Vaccines So Important?
Let’s take influenza as an example. Also known as the flu, this virus was once considered a deadly disease because our immune systems were not trained to fight them off. However, the flu vaccine changed that. Because vaccines trained our bodies to recognize and fight off this virus, the virus became far less deadly. According to the CDC, 4.4 million flu illnesses were prevented in 2018-2019 and 2.3 million flu related medical visits.3
Not only are vaccines effective for influenza, but they also propose promising solutions to COVID-19. COVID-19, a leading cause of death in the United States, has left the public in fear of being infected. However, vaccines have a promising prospect in helping cure COVID-19. Furthermore, coronaviruses are in the same family as SARS and even the common cold, which means that scientists are already a step closer to developing a vaccine4.
What Makes Vaccines Work?
Coronaviruses have spike proteins on their surfaces, which bind to human cells.4 A vaccine could potentially be used to inhibit the protein from binding to the cell surface and prevent the virus from reproducing.4 This isn’t the only approach. Other approaches include activated vaccines, or injecting a mild version of the virus to stimulate an immune response, inactive vaccines, or injecting killed viruses for responses, and genetically engineered vaccines, where genetically modified RNA or DNA with instructions to make copies of the spike protein is injected, causing a response.4 These are just a couple of the immense possibilities that vaccines promise in treating COVID-19.
Do Vaccines Cause Autism?
Although vaccines are commonly administered, there are many people who oppose vaccines for various reasons. One main reason people oppose vaccines is because they believe that vaccines cause autism. They claim that Thimerosal, a common ingredient in vaccines, causes autism.5 However, this argument is frail for a couple of reasons. First, there are countless vaccines without Thimerosal for those who are concerned. Even considering that, the CDC itself proved that Thimerosal has no scientific connection to autism.5 Yes, every action poses at least a 0.00001% risk. That would mean we could never do anything, due to the ever present risk of harm. However, substantial research and trends prove that the risks associated with vaccines are extremely low and the benefits vastly outweigh.
Why You NEED Vaccines
All in all, vaccines have a positive track record in minimizing the impact of many of the deadliest diseases. They have been scientifically proven to save lives and hold possibilities for the future. This is especially important in the context of COVID-19, as vaccines are currently the most promising treatment. So next time you’re at the doctor’s office waiting to be vaccinated, try not to think of that prick of pain. Think about the fact that the vaccine could be saving your life and the lives of millions of others.
1CDC. “Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Oct. 2020, www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/keyfacts.htm.
2Public Health Staff Writers. “How Vaccines Work.” PublicHealth.org, PublicHealth.org, 22 Nov. 2019, www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/vaccines-work/.
3CDC. “Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do the Flu Vaccines Work?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm.
4Mayo Clinic. “Get the Facts about a COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Vaccine.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 20 Oct. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-vaccine/art-20484859.
5CDC. “Thimerosal FAQs.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Aug. 2020, www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal/faqs.html.