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Vaccine Confusion – Let’s Talk!

by | Oct 26, 2022 | Health

How long have vaccines been around?

For centuries, humans have looked for ways to protect each other against deadly diseases. From experiments and taking chances to a global vaccine roll-out in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, vaccination has a long history.

The best-known journey of vaccination is related to smallpox. From at least the 15th century, people in different parts of the world attempted to prevent illness by intentionally exposing healthy people to a disease called smallpox, – a practice known as variolation (after a name for smallpox, ‘la variole’). Some sources suggest these practices were even taking place as early as 200 BC.

The first actual vaccine is credited to have been administered In May 1796, when English physician Edward Jenner inoculated 8-year-old James Phipps with matter collected from a cowpox sore on the hand of a milkmaid. Despite suffering a local reaction and feeling bad for several days, Phipps made a full recovery.

Edward Jenner

Two months later, in July 1796, Jenner “vaccinated” Phipps with matter from a human smallpox sore in order to test Phipps’ resistance. Phipps remained in perfect health and became the first human to be vaccinated against smallpox. The term ‘vaccine’ was later coined, taken from the Latin word for cow, vacca.

Throughout the decades, many advances occurred from Louis Pasteur creating a vaccine for rabies that is used post-exposure, to Jonas Salk creating a successful polio vaccine, later refined by Albert Sabine. Many of us remember the sugar cube polio vaccine of the 1960s. Vaccines have led to almost total eradication of some diseases such as smallpox and polio, according to the World Health Organization.

Louis Pasteur

Today’s flu vaccine actually came about during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, and research is ongoing to create effective vaccines as new diseases emerge.

What are “required” vaccines?

Because of vaccine success, especially in preventing debilitating or deadly diseases in children, governmental organizations have adopted mandatory vaccines for children. The vaccination requirements can often be confusing, and healthcare organizations use charts to keep up with when children need vaccinations for which diseases. In North Carolina, the Department of Public Instruction requires the vaccines in the attached chart in order for children to attend public school, and universities. Many private educational institutions, as well as places of employment such as healthcare systems also have “requirements” for vaccination according to those recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Adult recommendations are also attached.

Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule for ages 18 years or younger, United States, 2022

What is all the fuss about the HPV vaccine?

In 1995 research on cervical cancer determined that the human papillomavirus (HPV), played a role. HPV viruses are very common, often with minimal symptoms, but high-risk HPV strains can go on to cause other medical conditions, particularly cervical cancer. In 2006 the first vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) was approved and HPV vaccination has become a key part of the effort to eliminate cervical cancer.

To be most effective, the HPV vaccine is recommended for children ages 9-12 but can be given later. Parents are sometimes resistant to this vaccine because HPV is related to sexual activity, and parents cannot bear to think of their children in that way. According to the Mayo Clinic, “HPV infection is a viral infection that commonly causes skin or mucous membrane growths (warts). There are more than 100 varieties of human papillomavirus (HPV). Some types of HPV infection cause warts, and some can cause different types of cancer.

Most HPV infections don’t lead to cancer. But some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina (cervix). Other types of cancers, including cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and back of the throat (oropharyngeal), have been linked to HPV infection.

These infections are often transmitted sexually or through other skin-to-skin contact. You do not have to have actual sexual intercourse to contract HPV. Vaccines can help protect against the strains of HPV most likely to cause genital warts or cervical cancer. Getting the HPV vaccine will not lead to sexual activity. But it will prevent one disease way ahead of time!

What is the “grandparent” vaccine?

If you have a grandchild on the way, you will likely be advised to get the Tdap vaccine if you did not receive the vaccine as an adolescent. The vaccine protects against three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (“whooping cough”). You will also be advised to have an annual flu vaccine. All close contacts to the newborn should be vaccinated with the annual influenza vaccine at least 2 weeks before meeting the baby. They should also have had Tdap in the last 10 years. If they have not received that vaccine, they should get a Tdap booster at least 2 weeks before meeting the baby. The Tdap should last 10 years.

What vaccines are important for older adults?

According to Dr. Chet Amin, with Piedmont Family Medicine in Salisbury, NC, “vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent minor illnesses that can easily become a complicated health problem in the elderly because of other chronic medical conditions. At this time elderly people should speak with their physician about keeping up with the COVID-19 booster vaccine, influenza vaccine and pneumonia vaccine. Getting vaccinated for Zoster (shingles) also helps to prevent a severe case of shingles and is also highly recommended.”

What is current Covid vaccine status?

There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines available – Moderna and Pfizer, both of which require an initial 2-shot series. Currently, the most recent booster, which is a bivalent booster covering the most recent mutations, is also recommended. You can receive the most recent booster if it has been 60 days since your last booster. COVID-19 vaccines are now available for children 6 months and older.

What about vaccine myths?

Vaccine myths are typically a result of ignorance, so we continue to try to educate. The most frequently heard myths are along these lines:

If the vaccine works, why do I have to keep getting more shots?  Vaccines work by showing your internal immune system what an organism looks like so your immune system will recognize it if exposed again and be able to fight it off. Different vaccines cause your immune system to recognize the “bad guy” for different periods of time, and then “wear off.” This is why you need boosters, such as the tetanus booster every 10 years, etc. Some vaccinations are new enough that we don’t yet know how long they last, so research is ongoing.

I got the flu shot and it gave me the flu. – Almost all vaccines are created from dead organisms and cannot give you the disease. It may be that you got exposed to the flu during flu season before you ever got the shot, but the shot couldn’t have given you the flu.

I’m afraid of the side effects of vaccines – Throughout history we have had to weigh the risks of the vaccine (side effects) against the risk of contracting the disease and its outcomes. Would you rather feel ill for a day or two from a vaccine, or have the disease and risk paralysis (polio), blindness (measles) or death (flu and COVID-19 among others)?

Can vaccines cause autism or Guillain Barre syndrome? Much research has been done on causal effects of vaccines or vaccine ingredients and development of Autism Spectrum Disorders. This research continues to show NO CAUSAL relationship and can be reviewed in the following link:  https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html

In the past, vaccinations (particularly the flu vaccine used in the US during a swine flu outbreak in 1976) were linked to an increased risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome. But research has since found the chances of developing the condition after having a vaccination are extremely small. For example, a study into the vaccine used during the 2009 swine flu outbreak found that for every million people who had the vaccination, there were fewer than 2 extra cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

And evidence suggests that you are far more likely to get Guillain-Barré syndrome from an infection, such as the flu, than the vaccine designed to prevent the infection, such as the flu shot.

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About The Author

Dari Caldwell

I was born and raised on the northern end of Kannapolis, NC and after college (UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University) I lived away from North Carolina for 12 years, during which I earned a doctorate in Health Care Administration. My career has been in healthcare for over 40 years and in addition to being a Registered Nurse, I have held healthcare executive positions in Los Angeles, California, New York, Concord, Charlotte, and finally completed my career as President of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, where I retired in 2020. I live in and love Rowan County and have enjoyed immersing myself in the community on various volunteer boards such as Rowan Cabarrus Community College, Rowan Chamber of Commerce, Rowan Economic Development, Novant Hospice Advisory, Healthy Rowan, and am now Board Chair for the Rowan Board of Health. In retirement, my husband David and I have enjoyed our hobby of vegetable gardening, and visiting our children. We have two sons – Trent, who is the head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Lenoir Rhyne and is married to Brittany. They have 3 children including brand new twins! Our younger son Chris lives in Shreveport, Louisiana where he is an orthopedic surgery resident physician. We love sports, and also enjoy time at the lake, the beach, and with my 93 year old very spry mother!