Biology For Dummies
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One issue that challenges the success of vaccines today is people’s fears about vaccine safety. Because of these fears or mistrust of vaccines, some people are choosing not to vaccinate their children, a decision that ultimately puts the children at greater risk for infectious disease.

Following are a few points to consider about the safety of vaccination:

  • The risks from a vaccine are less than the risks from the disease. All vaccines have risks and can cause side effects. However, in order for a vaccine to be licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the side effects must be far less severe than the effects of the disease, and the risk of having side effects must be much lower than the risk of getting the disease.
  • Many diseases that are perceived as mere nuisances can actually have extremely serious complications. Measles, for example, which some people think of as a relatively harmless childhood disease, is the sixth most common killer of children worldwide. Measles infection can result in complications such as encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and pneumonia. According to the WHO, measles killed 114,900 people during 2014 alone, most of them children. This statistic is especially tragic when you consider that measles is a vaccine-preventable disease.
  • Many people in rich nations have no firsthand knowledge of the full impacts of infectious disease. Most younger people who live in rich nations such as the United States or countries in Europe have grown up in a time when vaccinations were easily available. Few people who had polio are still alive in these countries, and hardly anyone remembers the days when people ended up in iron lungs because polio had paralyzed the muscles they needed to breathe. Because of a lack of knowledge, the fear of infectious diseases has declined in these countries, leading people to question the need for vaccinations.
  • The internet spreads rumors like wildfire. The Internet brings a world of information right into your home. The problem with that information, however, is that it hasn’t all been checked for its accuracy. Books are checked by editors, and scientific and medical articles are carefully reviewed by groups of scientists and doctors before they’re published. All you need to put information on the Internet, however, is the cash for a domain name and host server. An official-looking website can fool people about the reliability of its information, so always check the source of your information.

Two organizations that have excellent information on vaccine safety are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

About This Article

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About the book author:

René Fester Kratz, PhD, teaches biology at Everett Community College. Dr. Kratz holds a PhD in Botany from the University of Washington. She works with other scientists and K?12 teachers to develop science curricula that align with national learning standards and the latest research on human learning.

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