Immunization Plain Talk : Page 5

• Prevent diseases that exist in other parts of the world. Some diseases, like polio and diphtheria, are rare in the U.S. but anyone traveling can catch and spread these diseases; they are only a plane ride away. • Protect others in your family and community. By immunizing your child, you also protect those who: -Have weakened immune systems. -Cannot get shots because they are too young, too old, or have certain medical conditions. -Are not fully immunized. Immunizations Complement the Immune System The immune system is the defense mechanism in each of us that helps the body fight disease. When you get infected with a virus or bacteria, your body responds by producing antibodies.* These antibodies fight the invading virus or bacterium (antigen**) and help you get over the illness. Even after the disease has gone and you are well, the antibodies usually stay in your body and protect you if you are exposed to the disease again. This is called immunity. Vaccines are the most effective way to build immunity (protection) without suffering from the harmful effects of the disease. (See also Chapter 3: How Vaccines Work.) Newborn babies often have immunity to some diseases because they have antibodies from their mothers (known as maternal antibodies). Maternal antibodies are temporary and are only passed on to the newborn if the mother has immunity to certain diseases herself. By getting immunized, children can stay immune to many diseases, even after they lose the protection from maternal antibodies. What About Alternatives to Immunizations? There is no effective alternative to immunization for protection against serious and sometimes deadly diseases. However, parents sometimes hear about breastfeeding and the use of vitamins or herbs in the context of disease prevention. Breastfeeding Without a doubt, breastfeeding has proven benefits, like enhancing the protection of infants against some colds, ear infections, and diarrhea. However, breastfeeding does not prevent the diseases that vaccines do prevent. Unlike vaccines, breast milk does not stimulate the infant’s own immune sys-tem to produce the antibodies needed to fight very specific diseases. Vaccines and breastfeeding do not interfere with each other, and together make an excellent way to keep your child healthy. Vitamins and Herbs Vitamins and herbs do not provide specific immunity (protection) against the many viruses and bacteria that cause diseases that vaccines prevent. Although vitamins and herbs either from sup-plements or a healthy diet may have beneficial effects on your health, they cannot replace the proven protection of vaccines. Immunizations Are a Safe Choice Vaccines are held to the highest standards of safety. The U.S. currently has the safest, most ef-fective vaccines in history. Before a vaccine can get licensed for use, U.S. law requires that it go through years of testing. (See Chapter 4: Vaccine Safety.) After a vaccine gets licensed and can be used by the general population, it continues to be monitored for safety and efficacy. Even with high safety standards and continual monitoring, immunizations are not perfect. First, vaccines are not 100 percent effective. Occasionally, people do not respond to a vaccine and may still * An antibody is a Y-shaped protein on the surface of B-cells that are secreted into blood in response to an antigen. The antibody neutralizes the antigen by binding to it. ** An antigen is any substance that causes the immune system to produce antibodies against it. They include foreign substances (chemicals, virus, bacteria, pollen), or toxins inside the body (bacteria toxins, tissue). 6

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