Vaccines vital to fight preventable diseases

DOVER — Every fall and winter, the flu vaccine gets a lot of attention as the most important vaccine but in truth, vaccines for preventable diseases are recommended for individuals throughout the life cycle.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines expose the body to a dose of an imitation infection (using a live or “killed” version of the infection) causing the immune system to develop the same response as it would to a real infection. The exposure will allow the body to recognize and fight the vaccine-preventable disease if exposed in the future.

“Basically the body will develop a memory of the illness and know it is an enemy and will then launch an attack if there is an encounter in the future,” said the Department of Public Health’s Immunization Program Director, Martin Luta.

Live vaccines are weak enough to not cause the illness it’s meant to protect against but there can be minor symptoms. The CDC says these mild symptoms are normal and should be expected as the body builds immunity.

Many childhood vaccines start at a young age and can be administered in a physician’s office. The CDC has an age guide as to when certain vaccines should be administered.

“You do not want to wait too long to get started because if you put it off, your child may be exposed to a preventable disease before they have an immunity to it,” Dr. Luta said.

Dr. Joseph Rubacky, a physician at Dover Family Physicians, has been practicing for 30 years and has treated patients “from diapers to diapers” most of his career.

“If you’ve ever seen a case of meningitis, measles or polio firsthand, you wouldn’t hesitate to get your child vaccinated,” he said. “Vaccines are absolutely life-saving measures and if you have questions, ask a qualified medical professional.”

Although the DTap vaccine protects against whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria, Dr. Rubacky said there is a sizable population in the area that have not received this vaccine.

“Whooping cough is something we see every single winter and it’s a condition that is easily prevented with a vaccine,” he said.

Whooping cough is most common in children and can last between two and 10 weeks with intense coughing fits leading to vomiting and even broken ribs.

“I think we really need to re-evaluate which vaccines are required because so many illnesses we see are preventable,” Dr. Rubacky said.

Vaccines are not only important to protect schoolchildren from illnesses, they are also important to protect those with weakened immune systems like the very young, those with immune deficiencies and the elderly.

“If you have someone with a weakened immune system, the vaccine may not protect them as well, or in the case of very young children, they may not be old enough to be vaccinated, so it’s important those around them are,” Mr. Luta said. “The only way to protect these individuals is for those around them to be protected.”

Doctors recommend a new set of immunizations for those older than 65 as their immune systems become weaker and they become susceptible to more illnesses. The most common recommendations are for shingles, pneumonia and Tdap (the adult version of DTap).

Dr. Rubacky, like many physicians, encourages patients to be proactive with vaccines and keep records of their own medical history.

For vaccines requiring a series of shots, a primary care physician will keep track of them but Dr. Rubacky said it’s never a bad idea to have a copy of your own files.

“Our practice has an online portal so our patients can access their medical history anytime, anywhere and as care becomes more patient-centered, this is a trend that will spread across the nation,” he said. “But to be safe, you should have a copy of all your basic information including immunizations.”

As a rule of thumb, Dr. Luta said that live vaccines will work forever but killed vaccines are short-lived and will require boosters or additional shots, like the flu vaccine which is suggested annually.

Your medical records will have information regarding vaccines being live or killed.

The CDC advises that if you or your child misses a vaccine in a series, there is no need to restart the series, just consult your physician to get back on schedule.

For more information about vaccines, visit cdc.gov/vaccines.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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