This article appeared in the April 28, 2022 edition of the Olean Time Herald.
We are in the middle of two very important health care-themed weeks: World Immunization Week and National Infant Immunization Week. I know, I know, we are all tired of hearing about vaccinations, right? We have heard about the Covid vaccine for nearly two years! Remember, there are many other vaccines that have helped us throughout the centuries and will continue to help us as we move forward.
As with other medical, scientific and technological breakthroughs, vaccines have evolved and improved since they were first used. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first “vaccine” may have been used by our military troops in the Revolutionary War to keep them safe from smallpox – a truly patriotic act! That medical advancement may have helped us to win the war and ensure our freedom from England. The U.S. first used a smallpox vaccine in the 1700s but that particular “vaccine” may have been used worldwide as early as 200 BCE.
Other vaccines followed including vaccines for cholera, rabies, diphtheria, influenza, yellow fever, whooping cough, polio, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, pneumonia, HPV, rotavirus, meningitis, and most recently Covid, Ebola, and malaria. You probably haven’t heard of many of these diseases and for that you can thank vaccines. In 1980, the WHO declared that smallpox had been eradicated. You cannot get it!
In fact, according to the World Health Organization, vaccines have saved more lives throughout history than any other medical breakthrough.
Even though vaccines are incredibly safe, there are many myths surrounding their use that we debunk. Perhaps you’ve heard some of these (taken from the www.publichealth.org):
Myth: Vaccines cause autism. Truth: this myth was based on a now discredited scientific article. The study had procedural and ethical violations as well as undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
Myth: Natural immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity. Truth: In some cases, this may be true, HOWEVER, the dangers of relying on this approach far outweigh the benefits. For example, according to publichealth.org, you would face a 1 in 500 chance of death from your symptoms if you contracted measles while the odds of having a severe allergic reaction to the MMR vaccine is less than one-in-one million.
Myth: Vaccines can infect my child with the disease it’s trying to prevent. Truth: Vaccines may cause mild symptoms but it’s likely your body’s own immune system responding to the vaccine, not the disease itself.
The Cattaraugus County Health Department encourages you to get vaccines to protect yourself and others. During Covid, many people fell behind in their usual vaccine schedule, particularly children.
“COVID may have created a delay for some in immunization scheduling however, throughout the COVID pandemic the Health Department has continued to offer appointments to keep children on track,” said Barb Parish, supervising community health nurse at the Cattaraugus County Health Department. “If children – or others – did fall behind, the CDC has recommendations for a catch-up vaccination schedule.” (The schedule may be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/catchup.html).
Remember that immunizations don’t just protect you from disease and illness. There are some people who are not able to get vaccines for medical reasons particularly those who have very weak immune systems, including children which is why it is recommended that children are immunized.
“Immunizations are given to children as young as the first 12 to 24 hours after birth while they are still in the hospital. Infants are especially vulnerable to infections as they have not had time to develop a strong immune system,” said Parish. “Childhood vaccines are meant to prevent diseases that could occur when a child is very young and at the greatest risk of complications.”
Please make sure you visit your primary health care provider to ensure you are caught up with your vaccines. Vaccines aren’t just for infants and children. As we get older, there are several vaccines we may consider getting to avoid suffering from preventable illnesses. Please know that the Cattaraugus County Health Department’s Clinics offer immunization services for babies, children, teenagers, adults, pregnant women, and seniors. Call 716-701-3439 for an appointment. No one is turned away if they are unable to pay. There is a Covid vaccine clinic on Saturday, April 30 at JCC. This clinic also includes the booster shot. Please visit www.cattco.org for registration information. Walk-ins are welcome. Residents may also get the Covid vaccine from their primary care providers and several local pharmacies.
Immunizations save lives. Get vaccinated for yourself, your family, your friends and your community.
Pauline Hoffmann is an Associate Professor and former dean of the Jandoli School of Communication. She is also a Senior Health Fellow in the NYS Public Health Fellowship Corp working with the Cattaraugus County Department of Health.