By Audrey M. Stevenson, PhD, MPH, MSN, FNP-BC
Vaccines have been described as one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century and have been responsible for preventing millions of diseases and deaths worldwide. At the beginning of the 20th century, infectious diseases such as smallpox, measles, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) were widely prevalent. Since there were few effective measures of prevention available, death tolls were high. Both the development and promotion of vaccinations against preventable diseases have resulted in dramatic declines in morbidity and mortality and have even resulted in the eradication of smallpox.
According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), there are more than 16 diseases and cancers that are prevented by currently available vaccines, and even more for individuals who travel to areas with diseases not common in the U.S. Because of the effectiveness of vaccines, many previously common diseases are nearly gone or are seldom seen.
When large numbers of a community are vaccinated against a particular disease, the disease is less likely to spread in that community. However, as the number of individuals vaccinated or immune to a particular disease decrease, the disease can make a comeback and outbreaks occur. In recent years we have seen outbreaks of mumps, pertussis, measles and even cases of polio — all in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic and annual flu outbreaks.
So, who needs vaccines? Everyone! August is back-to-school month for many school-aged children and college students. We know that there is a schedule of vaccines that children need to be protected against childhood diseases. But did you know that there are vaccines specifically recommended for individuals of all ages? There are age-appropriate vaccines for each stage of life, as recommended by the CDC. These vaccines can protect adults from several diseases and cancers. When was the last time you reviewed your vaccine record with your health care provider or pharmacist? You may be due for a vaccine booster, or there may be a newer vaccine that you have not yet received.
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of misinformation was circulated about vaccines. Vaccines are safe and effective, and literally millions of doses of vaccines have been safely administered over decades. I am fully vaccinated with all the recommended vaccines. I ensure my loved ones and my patients are protected and receive the vaccines they need to be protected against diseases and cancers. If I had reservations or doubts about the safety or efficacy of the vaccines, I wouldn’t receive them or have my loved ones receive them and I wouldn’t recommend them to my patients. As a nurse practitioner (NP), I have seen how devastating some of these vaccine-preventable diseases can be. I’ve seen patients who were seriously ill and have even had patients who died from influenza and COVID-19. I would love nothing more than for my patients, neighbors and family members to be protected from preventable diseases. In addition, when I receive a vaccine, I am less likely to spread the disease to another person.
When we get vaccinated, we are not only protecting our own health, but we are also protecting the health of others we come in contact with – our families, coworkers and others. As a result of our interaction, he was vaccinated that year and all the years that followed.
I want each person in our communities to live their best, healthiest and happiest lives. Take this opportunity to review your vaccine record and proactively reach out to your NP or other health care provider for their recommendations. Review the records of your family members and loved ones. Encourage those around you to make sure that they have all the protection that is possible, and let’s take a “shot” at preventing diseases.