August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). This annual observance highlights the importance of getting recommended vaccines throughout your life. For many of us, immunization is a regular part of healthcare, starting from the first days of a baby’s life. Still, when we dive deeper, vaccine discovery is nothing short of a medical miracle.
Prior to the 19th century, infectious diseases like measles, smallpox, and polio attacked the population with mysterious symptoms, disability, and death. Thanks to some enterprising medical researchers at the turn of the 19th century, we gained a new understanding of microorganisms like germs and viruses and how to prevent diseases from rapidly spreading—and began to enjoy more protection through immunization.
Over the next two centuries till today, vaccines have saved millions of lives. The first scientific research for medicinal disease protection started in 1796 with Edward Jenner, who used arm-to-arm inoculation—taking material from an infected person and injecting it into another person’s skin—to learn more about cowpox infection and protection. His method laid the foundation for the scientific approach that helped 20th-century vaccine researchers develop the recommended vaccines we have today.
Vaccines are undoubtedly the most effective public health measure in the United States. They’ve reduced disease occurrence, disability, and death from formerly deadly diseases and wiped at least one—smallpox—off the map. Thanks to vaccines, we’re seeing huge drops in many other infectious diseases from the 20th century:1
- Smallpox2—which affected millions of people every year and killed 30% of those who contracted it, has been completely eradicated.
- Diphtheria3—most commonly a respiratory disease that causes breathing problems, swollen glands, and toxins released into the bloodstream, has decreased by 100% in the U.S.
- Mumps4—a disease that leads to swollen glands in the face and neck that could cause deafness, has seen a 97% drop in reported cases.
- Polio—a childhood disease that causes weakness, paralysis, and death, has been nearly eradicated worldwide and has decreased 100% in the U.S.
We’ve reaped the benefits of vaccine research for seasonal viruses, too. Flu shots prevent:5
- 7.5 million infections
- 3.7 million medical visits
- 6,400 flu-related deaths
- Flu-related cardiac events
- Flu-related chronic lung disease
Immunizations give humans a boost of virus-fighting superpowers to protect against these illnesses.
Are vaccines safe?
Safety is one of the biggest concerns regarding immunization, especially for new parents and those deciding to take a new type of vaccine. Because vaccines are given to healthy people, including newborns with no natural immunity, they’re held to the highest safety standards possible.
The process begins with testing and evaluation from the vaccine makers before it touches any desk at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Researchers start clinical trials of volunteers, starting with small groups and increasing to groups of thousands to find out what (if any) reactions they have, what doses work best, and the benefits versus risks of taking the vaccine.
After the vaccine is recommended, every batch is tested in a lab for quality and safety to ensure it works like it’s supposed to, it’s pure, and it has no outside germs. Additionally, the FDA regularly monitors and reviews tests, labs, and production facilities.
Vaccines are continuously monitored through a handful of safety reporting systems. Together, these systems give a complete picture of vaccine safety. Research and monitoring goals are to prevent disease and death while minimizing side effects, all to keep you protected.
Latest Vaccines for Kids and Adults
Immunization campaigns have successfully rid the country of smallpox and polio, and research has allowed for more effective combination doses for several diseases to minimize the number of immunizations we should get. Here is a list of the most common from birth to adulthood7:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- DTaP (diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis), a combination of immunization against bacterial infections that can cause respiratory distress, whooping cough, and jaw-locking
- RV—which protects against stomach flu
- HiB—protection against bacteria that can cause meningitis
- PCV13—a preventative vaccine for a variety of conditions
- IPV—which protects against polio
- MMR—which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella
- Varicella—a protective vaccine against chickenpox
After six, boosters may be required, but most children are fully immunized. Seasonal flu shots are still recommended for all ages, as well as booster shots for DTaP. Seniors are encouraged to talk to their doctor about vaccines that prevent painful shingles.
Future of Immunization and Vaccine Development
Researchers are in a constant battle to keep up with the latest protection as new viruses mutate and wreak havoc on the world. Thankfully, a deepening understanding of viruses and bacteria and insight into how our bodies fight disease helped speed up vaccine development and bring life-saving immunizations to the population.
For example, researchers relied on previous discoveries to develop, test, trial, and seek approval for the COVID-19 vaccine about 18 months after the pandemic’s start. Private and government organizations poured billions of dollars and hours of research into stopping COVID from stealing more lives. This safe, effective vaccine reduced deaths by 63% compared to the first year of the pandemic.8
The life-saving qualities of COVID-19 and other immunizations are a testament to scientific discovery and individuals working together for a healthier future. Immunizations work best when we’re all in; many vaccines not only protect you but also weave a blanket of protection for newborns, the elderly population, and immunocompromised friends, neighbors, and coworkers. At Uprise Health, we encourage you to learn more about immunization and how to keep your mind, body, and spirit healthy all year long.