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How vaccines work, why they’re important

How vaccines work, why they’re important | UPMC Health Plan

Have you ever wondered why it’s so important to get vaccinated? Or how vaccinations work to fight infection? Or maybe you are wondering why your own body can’t protect itself? We have all of those answers and more for you as we shed a spotlight on vaccinations.

Vaccinations are a safe and cost effective way to prevent illness and possible death from infectious diseases. In fact, vaccinations have even been a part of some of the greatest public health achievements of our time. Chances are you haven’t worried about getting diphtheria, smallpox, or polio; but those diseases and similar ones accounted for more deaths than all cancers combined in the early 1900s. Because of vaccinations, you can rest easy in knowing that you have protection against deadly illnesses.

To get a better understanding of vaccinations, let’s first look at how the body works to fight illness. It starts when germs invade the body and cause an infection that can lead to an illness or disease. If it’s the first time the body encounters the germ, it can take several days — even up to a week — to combat the infection. Once the infection has passed, the body’s immune system remembers how to protect the body against that particular illness. You can think of it as the immune system being trained to resist disease; this is called naturally acquired immunity. With this type of immunity, the body will experience the symptoms of the disease — and also the risk of complications, even death. But if the body can fight the infection, it will be armed for the next time it encounters the disease.

Now let’s talk about how vaccinations can help. Vaccines help leverage the body’s natural ability to fight infection using its own immune system. Vaccines contain parts or microbes of a disease. These parts have been killed or weakened so they won’t cause the disease. The vaccinations imitate the infection without causing the actual illness. That means the body fights dead or weakened microbes and will remember how to fight the disease in the future. Thanks to vaccinations, we have the ability to prevent some diseases from occurring in the first place rather than treating illness after it has occurred. By getting vaccinated you can protect not only yourself, but also those around you.

The bottom line is that some people do believe natural acquired immunity is better than using vaccinations to protect the body. But it’s important to remember that some naturally occurring infections have the potential to be deadly and cause very severe complications. It’s also important to remember that vaccinations can cause side effects but are typically mild, where a disease can be serious and deadly. It’s always best to talk to your health care provider about what options are best for you and your family.