Vaccines help protect against flu, childhood illnesses
Sue Bennett, clinic nurse in the Mississippi State University Longest Student Health Center, provides a flu vaccine to Vanessa Beeson, a technical writer with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, on Oct. 15, 2014. MSU is one of many employers and community resources providing low-cost or no-cost seasonal flu vaccines. PHOTO: Linda Breazeale | MSU Ag Communications
Mississippi health professionals agree vaccinations protect public health, and there should be no debate on the fact.
David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said when decisions about vaccinations seem complicated, the most important consideration may be that vaccines are not just for the individuals getting them.
“While many people will survive preventable illnesses, others will not be so lucky,” Buys said. “Childhood vaccinations, as well as vaccines for the upcoming flu season, offer protection for family, friends and the general public, as well as the individuals getting the vaccines.”
Buys said most people who choose not to get vaccinations for themselves or their children are basing their decisions on misinformation and myths.
“The flu vaccine will not cause someone to get the flu, and it will not prevent the flu 100 percent of the time,” he said. “If someone gets the flu after a vaccination, he or she may have been exposed before the vaccine could help the body build adequate immunity. There are some strains that will not be prevented by the vaccines.”
Buys said flu vaccines significantly reduce the risk of flu spreading throughout a community.
“It’s not just about you. It’s about everyone in the community, including individuals with weakened immune systems or other health complications that could make recovery difficult or impossible,” he said. “For instance, younger, healthier people may carry the flu virus but have limited symptoms. If they go to a family gathering and have contact with an elderly family member, the senior adult may contract the flu and become extremely ill.”
People who suspect they might have the flu should see a health care provider immediately, regardless of how mild symptoms seem. Early treatment can shorten the duration of the illness.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state epidemiologist with the Mississippi State Department of Health, said the more people in a community are immunized, the fewer opportunities there are for illnesses to spread.
“The flu complicates the issue because of different strains. Young, healthy adults are typically less likely to get vaccinated for seasonal flu,” Dobbs said. “Still, flu can kill people who are otherwise healthy, and last year’s strain was most deadly for young and middle-aged adults.”
Dobbs said immunizations can prevent a number of childhood illnesses, such as measles, mumps, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).
While pertussis can be very mild in adults who have been previously exposed, it can be serious, or even fatal, in young children. Infants cannot receive the vaccine that prevents pertussis (DTaP) until they are 2 months old. Therefore, pregnant women and adults -- especially parents, grandparents and caretakers of young children -- need to receive the pertussis vaccine (Tdap) at least once. Since Tdap also includes tetanus, those who receive this shot would not need another tetanus vaccine for 10 years.
“As long as these infectious conditions exist somewhere in the world, they are always at our backdoor,” Dobbs said. “We have seen flare-ups in communities where people do not get their immunizations, and each of these illnesses can be debilitating and even deadly.”
Dobbs encouraged parents to seek out timely immunizations for their children.
“Science supports our vaccines as safe and effective,” he said.
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Linda Breazeale | MSU Ag Communications