Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital
The Facts on Immunizations
Many diseases have been reduced or even eliminated by use of vaccines. However, there are still many preventable diseases today that call for vaccination including Flu (Influenza), Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Pneumococcal Disease, Shingles, Tetanus, and Whooping Cough (Pertussis). You may have heard of these vaccine-preventable diseases, but did you know they can cause long-term illness, hospitalization or even death? The CDC reports the following:
• Each year in the United States, one million people get shingles and some will have severe pain that can continue even long after their rash clears up (called post-herpetic neuralgia) or they may suffer from other painful complications that could persist for years.
• Each year, an average of 226,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza and between 3,000 and 49,000 people die of influenza and its complications, the majority of whom are adults.
• There were approximately 32,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease in 2012. Of those cases, there were approximately 3,300 deaths.
• 800,000 to 1.4 million people suffer from chronic hepatitis B with complications such as liver cancer.
• In the U.S., HPV causes about 17,000 cancers in women and about 9,000 cancers in men each year. About 4,000 women die each year from cervical cancer.
Nevertheless, between the fear of syringe needles and the vaccine myths, many people avoid getting vaccinated.
MYTH: Vaccines may not be safe.
FACT: Vaccines are tested before they are approved by the FDA. They are also monitored by the FDA and CDC after they are approved. Although you may have heard some vaccines can contain formaldehyde, mercury or aluminum, only very tiny amounts are used in FDA approved vaccines. You may even be surprised to learn formaldehyde is made in our own bodies in higher amounts than what can be found in a vaccine. In addition, no evidence has been found that low levels of formaldehyde, mercury or aluminum are harmful to our health.
MYTH: Vaccines can make you sick.
FACT: The most common side effects caused by vaccines are soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. Vaccines may also cause a mild fever. More serious side effects are very rare and carefully monitored. Many people think that vaccines can make them sick, but, when symptoms do occur, it is the body’s immune system responding to the vaccine, not the disease itself.
MYTH: If I don’t get vaccinated, it won’t affect anyone else.
FACT: Vaccines can protect an entire population, even people who are unable to get vaccinated. If enough people get vaccines, there is a very small opportunity for an outbreak. And even the people who are unable to get vaccinated will benefit. This is called “herd immunity.” Some people in your community including infants, older adults and people with weakened immune systems, are not able to get vaccines. These people rely on herd immunity to prevent the spread of disease. Here is an example: Newborns are too young to get a vaccine for whooping cough (pertussis). Pertussis can be very harmful, even deadly. Therefore, the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine is recommended for anyone who will be in contact with young babies to help protect them.
Vaccines are a safe and effective way to help you and others stay healthy. So, talk to your doctor about which vaccines are right for you.
Vaccine Information for Adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ vaccines/adults/index.html. Updated January 16, 2016. Accessed July 6, 2016.
What are some of the myths- and facts- about vaccination? World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/features/qa/84/en. Published March 2016. Accessed June 23, 2016.