Benefits and Risks of Vaccination Essay Example

Vaccination refers to administering antigenic substance to stimulate the immune system of a person and initiate adaptive immunity to a given disease causing pathogen (Fiore, Bridges, & Cox, 2009), and either eliminates or reduces the tendency of an infection to kill. The earliest documented vaccination attempts were made in India and China in the 17th century whereby substances obtained from wounds of small pox infected people were used as a vaccine. In the 18th century, it was realized that people who had previously suffered from a less lethal cowpox were immune to smallpox after Edward Jenner administered stuffs from a cow pox infected person to another individual and then injected smallpox causing pathogens to the latter. To his surprise, the second individual never contracted smallpox and this prompted Jenner to devise a way of creating the vaccine by extracting liquids from the pimples of vaccinated people. This led to the discovery of small pox vaccine which was the unique of its kind (Plett, 2006). Despite controversy between medical professions and religious leaders, the vaccine gained popularity and by 18th century over 100,000 people had been vaccinated (Gross & Sepkowitz, 1998). This marked the beginning of the global spread of vaccines applied under given regulations.

Merits of Vaccination

Smallpox used to be contagious and lethal and killed 20-26% of infected adults as well as 80% of infected children (Riedel, 2005) prior to the invention of the first vaccine in 1976 (Plett, 2006). However, vaccination has been controversial in the scientific, political, medical, religious and ethical fields, and the opposition can be traced from as early as the 19th century. Among the reasons for objection are; belief that vaccines are dysfunctional, doubt in the safety of the vaccines and the feeling that government policy on immunization is intrusion to people’s private health lives (Wolfe & Sharp, 2002). When rumors were propagated about the safety of a vaccine, people were easily convinced that it was not fit for them and it took a lot of time to change their views (Bonhoeffer & Heininger, 2007).

With vaccinations being a current affair, politicians are likely to use it as a stepping stone to promote their political gains by spreading farfetched information about the vaccine so that people can recognize it. In many countries, rumors spread that the government is on a population control mission, and therefore, engaged in sterilizing women in disguise of vaccination. Religious leaders also played a role in frustrating vaccination campaigns arguing that diseases were Heavenly-sent to punish the sins and that it was therefore satanic to prevent them (Bazin, 2001). There has also been a fear that vaccines cause diseases like diabetes and epilepsy among others as well as transmitting viruses like hepatitis and HIV. Mainly, a controversy behind vaccines revolves around the components of vaccine and its side effects. This paper therefore seeks to discuss the merits and demerits of vaccination, so as to ascertain whether the demerits outweigh the merits.

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Reduced Mortality

Newborn babies as well as children below 5 years are highly vulnerable to infections that are fatal. However, vaccines have eliminated a number of diseases and this has reduced the death rate of children unlike it used to be in the past when vaccines were not in place. Examples of deadly diseases that have been eliminated are; smallpox and measles while a total of 25 diseases have also been successfully managed through vaccine (Riedel, 2005). Small pox has the capability of killing 80% of the affected children hence if the disease strikes a village, more than 80% of the children are wiped out. By controlling the said 25 diseases all of which have different mortality rates, vaccines have therefore brought a remedy for deaths caused by such illnesses. Apart from children, adults were also vulnerable to disease outbreak and smallpox, for instance, could kill 26% of the affected people. A good example of the essence of vaccines is the elimination of polio in the United States of America. Polio wreaked havoc in the United States where many deaths and cases of paralysis used to be reported but polio vaccine has proved to be a panacea to that problem (Riedel, 2005). Failure to vaccinate a child therefore exposes the child to the risk of mortality.

Effectiveness and Safety

Vaccines are administered after a thorough research by doctors, scientists and other professionals concerned with medical services. Vaccines may have side effects like pain and tenderness of skin on the injected spot but considering the loss associated with the diseases that these vaccines prevent, the latter proves to be better because fatal cases resulting from vaccines are very rare. In case of polio, the affected may become paralyzed while tetanus may lead to amputation. Considering the effects of such illnesses, side effects of vaccines are therefore better and more bearable. The World Health Organization and independent experts have stated that vaccines are safer as compared to medicines used in treatment therapies (Zhou et al., 2003) and this is because the latter has been found to have more side effects. It has also been claimed that the harmful substances introduced to the body by a vaccine are fewer than the ones acquired in day to day life either through eating, inhaling or skin contact. Refusing to immunize children under the fear of side effects therefore places them under a threat of more severe effects of diseases.

Facilitating Mobility and Save Travel

Modern times are characterized by cross-border mass travels by road, air and sea. The risk of the transmission of diseases from one country to another is high due to mass movement of people abroad. Polio, rabies, hepatitis B, measles, typhoid and cholera among others are examples of diseases that have been transmitted by travelers (Klaber 2002). Therefore, vaccination against this secures both the traveler and the residents of the destination headed by the said traveler. In cases of large international human gatherings in the world such as the Muslim Hajj among others, the host authorities require and recommend various vaccinations for participants (Ahmed, Arabi, & Memish, 2006). People who are not vaccinated against certain diseases are therefore prone to travel restrictions imposed by the authorities of the intended destination for the purposes of preventing the spread of diseases according to their jurisdiction. This restriction also helps the traveler to avoid contracting contagious diseases while on tour of the area. Children who are denied vaccination are therefore made vulnerable to diseases that are spread through travelling.

Saving Time and Money

Immunization is pre-empting or ameliorating a disease as opposed to treatment/medication, hence it is considered an investment. The vaccination practically costs less money and takes less time as compared to treatment that might take years and ultimately result in death even after treatment, leave alone the work time loss. In many learning institutions, it is mandatory for children to be immunized before admission and therefore an immunized child does not have to waste time during admission. Since both the household and the national economy are dependent on the health of individuals, a vaccinated community has the capability of working and spending less money on medication of preventable diseases. This promotes the alternative use of money on developmental activities hence boosting economic growth (Shearley, 1999). Immunization is associated with monetary costs in the short run, but the costs are insignificant and save more long-run costs of hospital bills as well as drug costs incurred while contagiously treating diseases when they strike. The risk of unimmunized child to contract diseases and bring losses to the family is therefore high.

Protection of Others as Well as Oneself

Vaccination prevents infection of an individual as well as the spread of diseases across a community. In cases where someone cannot be vaccinated due to allergic reactions to the vaccine, the fate of the person lies in the hands of the others who are capable of being vaccinated. Once an individual is vaccinated, the chances of him/her contracting and transmitting the disease are eliminated hence the vaccine protects both the individual and the community at large. In a society, the poor are to a greater extent burdened by diseases that they cannot even afford treating. Vaccination therefore, helps the poor to protect themselves from such diseases and therefore makes them less vulnerable just like the rich people. Children who are not vaccinated are therefore exposed to a risk themselves, and also pose a threat to other children.

Protection against Bio Terrorism

In the contemporary world, the tactics of war and terrorism has shifted from the traditional ones that involved the use of guns and bombs. The current trend has led to introduction of biological weapons such as viruses and bacteria that terrorists drop in the target area to cause an outbreak of diseases like small pox. These weapons are more destructive as compared to physical ones. Vaccination against such diseases prevents the diseases from wiping out the target community hence immunization is desirable. Vaccination therefore, is a tool for state security against the external or internal threat of bio terrorism as it neutralizes biological weapons in the form of disease causing agents hence making the population less vulnerable to terrorism. Failure to vaccinate children therefore makes them susceptible to bio terrorism.

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Prevention of Resistance to Antibiotics

Vaccines pre-empt infections therefore reducing the prevalence of disease causing agents and the necessity of taking antibiotics. Vaccination further prevents the development of drug resistant strains of viruses and bacteria hence keeping the disease in question manageable. Creation of new vaccines against disease causing agents where there is a threat of antibiotic resistance is a long-term method of solving the problem of resistance (Lieberman, 2003). This is because persistent use of antibiotics makes pathogens develop mechanisms of resistance to those drugs in the long run. It is therefore better to use antibiotics only when necessary, at the right time and for the right purpose. If pathogens persistently develop resistance to drugs, this will be a disaster hence prevention is better than response. A child who is not immunized is therefore at a high risk of drug resistant strains of pathogens.

Protecting Future Generations

Vaccination of pregnant mothers helps to protect their unborn babies from potentially harmful diseases that could either cause deformities upon birth or even death. Vaccination also helps to eradicate diseases that might affect the future generation. For instance, smallpox was eradicated in 1979 (Koplow, 2003), and were it not for the vaccine, the disease could have been a menace even in the current world. Therefore, current generation does not have to be vaccinated against small pox because the disease has been eliminated by vaccines. It has been noticed that American women who were immunized against German measles at a young age had less chances of spreading the virus to their infants and the unborn babies, hence reducing the percentage of birth deformities like heart problems, mental disabilities and hearing and vision loss among others. Failure to immunize a child is therefore a disregard to the health of future generations.

Demerits of Vaccination

Infringement of Constitutionally Protected Religious Rights

Constitutions of most countries uphold religious freedom of their respective citizens. Some religions have beliefs that tend to oppose medical services arguing that diseases are acts of God and therefore followers of the said religions tend to oppose vaccination because of their opinion that it is evil. However, when the governments come up with vaccination policies, they do not exempt followers of such religions from compulsory vaccination. This is therefore a violation of rights of such people on matters of health yet those rights are guaranteed by the Constitution (Bazin, 2001). Rejection to immunize children therefore protects their religious rights.

Government Intervention in Personal Medical Choices

Human rights activists argue that people have sovereignty over their own bodies by virtue of being free citizens and therefore the government should not forcefully vaccinate people (Wolfe & Sharp, 2002). Parents are assumed to play a role of deciding what medical service is good for their children and therefore the government should not only consult them before planning vaccination campaigns, but also allow them to decide on whether the vaccine is necessary or not. However, there are tough situations that call for tough measures and therefore use of force is warranted if a country is to save its population from a deadly disease. Parents of unimmunized children therefore have full control over decisions concerning their lives.

Harmful Consequences of Vaccines

There is scientific evidence of vaccines causing severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) (Bonhoeffer & Heininger, 2007). Vaccines administered through injections are associated with redness of the skin, warmth and swelling. Chicken pox vaccine in particular is said to cause harmful effects like pneumonia and meningitis. Vaccine viruses are also associated with eye infection or even loss of eye sight as a result of its reaching the eyes. Unimmunized children are therefore protected from harmful consequences of vaccines.

Vaccines have benefits that outweigh the risks because they have led to eradication of diseases like small pox that used to be deadly as compared to the allergic reactions that have been found on vaccines. Out of the number of vaccinated children, only a small fraction have been negatively affected by immunization as compared to those who have not been harmed and this therefore gives credit to vaccines. Vaccination is a medical procedure just like any other and therefore it has its own risks as well. The few cases of injuries and undesirable side effects are not as disastrous as the consequences of diseases that these vaccines pre-empt hence the risk is bearable compared to the loss of lives as a result of illnesses. Vaccination has also played a role of mitigation against bio terrorism whereby disease causing pathogens are used as a weapon. The role of vaccine has therefore extended to encompass security purposes and this has added a lot of weight to its significance. In the modern world that is dynamic, travelling is part and parcel of day to day life hence it is unavoidable. Vaccines have facilitated safe cross-border travels hence reducing the rates of transmission of diseases that are rapidly spread through travelling. All this is enough to prove that vaccines are important hence vaccine campaigns should be intensified to make the world safer and compromise should be avoided as long as safety of immunization is guaranteed.

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Immunization Policy

Immunization is considered the 20th century public health achievement approach that reduced child mortality rate in a cost-effective manner (Conis, 2014). In the United States and around the world, immunization has offered protection not only to children, but to the larger population. Individuals with immune system disorders have also benefited hugely from the immunization programs. The state of public health has played a significant role, coming up with sophisticated immunization policies. Over the past few decades, the policy has had an effect on the life of Americans, increasing life expectancy to almost 30 years (Conis, 2014). The improvement occurred due to the increased usage of vaccines and other antimicrobial agents. Vaccination is one of the significant approaches of care delivery that has saved society through routine immunization of children in the country. Even though health activists have over the years highlighted that the vaccination policy has diverse effects on a child’s life, the essay elucidates its success and importance to Americans.

Significance of Vaccination

Conis (2014) heralds immunization policy as one of the imperative methods the government has ever adopted to address premature deaths among children due to diseases such as typhoid and measles. The policy has proved to be of great magnitude since vaccination emerged as a very safe and effective way of preventing severe diseases that occur due to infectious organisms and viruses by increasing the amount of antibodies. Vaccination is administered through drops in the mouth or injecting an individual with a modified disease causative agent. As such, the person develops immunity to that disease since his or her antibodies would be strengthened.

It is significant to assert that when all individuals in a given community are vaccinated, the spread of a disease can be curbed, and infection cannot be transmitted from one individual to another. Thus, the exact target of the immunization policy is to assure that every member of the community is immunized against deadly disease. Immunization has been successful in relation to eradication of diseases such as polio and smallpox, which have been significantly wiped off the face of the country. However, to ensure the defeat of diseases through vaccination during their inception, it is considerable to have an immunization policy in place that would oversee the increased percentage of Americans are immunized against various medical conditions.

The goal of the vaccination policy is to get rid of diseases and discontinue its existence on earth. The policy has particularly emphasized on the common diseases, such as malaria, polio, measles, mumps, and smallpox, directing its efforts towards their eradication (Stratton, Wilson, McCormick, Institute of Medicine (U.S.), & Institute of Medicine (U.S.), 2002). Enforcing the vaccination policies, the Center for Disease Control makes certain that it produces immunity, especially to preventable diseases. However, the vaccination policy does not only focus on an individual, but also on community as a whole, which has a herd immunity. The significant notion behind herd immunity is to make it hard for pathogens to spread to the larger part of the population. The move will allow to protect individuals that cannot access personal vaccination due to aspects such as allergies, age, and health reasons.

Success of Immunization

Immunization is one of the success stories and major achievements by the Department of Health in the 20th century. The increasing use of the vaccine in the country has led to the elimination of two devastating childhood diseases, which are polio and smallpox. In addition, over the past few decades, vaccination has helped reduce the spread of other critical diseases such as diphtheria, Measles, whooping cough, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae type b disease. Immunization policy has been successful through different immunization programs introduced to the mainstream population. In the United States, there are four vaccines introduced during the late 90s that have successfully offered protection to the population (Stratton et al., 2002).

The four vaccines programs highlighted in the U.S. immunization policy, which have played a leading role in minimizing the spread rate of certain diseases in the country, are as follows. First, the Hepatitis B vaccines offer protection against the causative agent of liver cancer and chronic liver disease. The vaccine has been effective, especially in minimizing the cases of cancer. On the other hand, varicella vaccine offers protection against complications that are associated with chicken pox, which includes the severe group A streptococcal disease. Moreover, the conjugated 7-serotype pneumococcal vaccine offers protection to children from infections such as bacteremia, pneumonia, and meningitis.

The U.S. immunization policy has been successful in protecting individuals from diverse illnesses as a result of the spread of viruses. For the past few decades, programs aimed at adults, adolescents and children have decreased the spread of organisms that are responsible for various deadly diseases. The flexibility of the policy allows the Ministry of Health to add additional vaccines in each program in response to the emergence of a disease that might result in the death of children. For instance, in the past decade, the childhood immunization program added influenza virus infection vaccines and respiratory syncytial virus vaccines, which had resulted in the hospitalization of children.

Parents and health pundits have argued that the vaccination programs have adverse effects on the health of children. However, serious adverse effects have yet to be reported. Furthermore, it is clear that discontinuation of these vaccines will lead to increased death rates due to deadly diseases. According to Wang, Clymer, Davis-Hayes, and Buttenheim (2014), discontinuation of measles vaccine in the country would lead to the occurrence of more than three million cases of measles, as well as close to 1800 deaths annually (Wang et al., 2014). As a result, the policy on this issue has been clear and has offered alternative approaches in case of side effects due to vaccination [see vaccine safety section].

The United States immunization policy is flexible, allowing each state to implement a variety of exemptions and administrative rules (Wang et al., 2014). Exemptions throughout the country vary from one state to another due to certain medical reasons. For instance, almost all states make exemptions due to religious beliefs of a certain faction except West Virginia and Mississippi. In addition, particular states consider philosophical reasons as an exemption.

State Programs

Many states depend on the federal government to access vaccines and vaccination programs. Nevertheless, the federal programs are not satisfactory; as a result, diverse states have embarked on purchasing vaccines for their population.

Universal Purchase

By the year 2014, different states demonstrated universal purchase policies whereby they had the initiative to purchase vaccines for children, including the insured ones. These states included New Hampshire, New Mexico, Indiana, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Washington. In addition, there were two other states, namely North Dakota and Florida, which have had general purchase policies covering public providers. It is significant to acknowledge that despite having a common immunization policy, each state have tailored it to their capabilities since the national government cannot meet the demands of all states at once. However, the policies tailored to each state should conform to the national policy.

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Insurance Requirements

The Affordable Care Act included in the policy clearly requires insurance policies and new health plans to offer coverage for certain preventive services without cost sharing. Preventive services, according to the policies, include immunizations that are recommended by the National Advisory Committee (Kim, Bridges, & Harriman, 2015). The committee consists of members that are appointed by the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services who recommends immunization schedules for children, adolescents, and adults. The policy is clear and is based on regulations emphasized by the secretary that insurance policies should offer preventive services to any vaccination program. However, flexibility of the federal policy allows states to decide which childhood immunization to cover, either that recommended by the Advisory Committee or the one suggested by American Academy of Pediatrics (Kim et al., 2015). Moreover, there are other states that have sought to embrace an immunization mandate into their ‘well-child’ coverage. On the other hand, other states in the country adhere to the federal immunization policy without considering any amendments.

Vaccine Safety

Both the state and policy makers, as well as vaccine manufacturers, government agencies, the medical community, and guardians share a common vision, which is to keep children healthy and safe. As a result, vaccine manufacturers and the relevant government agencies have engineered vaccines for adults and children in the safest way possible (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015). However, vaccines are not hundred percent safe as there are some side effects that they can cause to an individual. As vaccination becomes efficient, many parents tend to forget the symptoms of the disease and are more concerned about the side effects. Due to ignorance, some of the parents may begin to think that the risk of having a reaction due to vaccination is greater compared to contracting an incurable disease. This immunization policy is clear since its main purpose is to offer programs that address the situation at both the state and federal level.

Federal Safety Programs Highlighted in the Policy

The policy acknowledges the need to have a safety program to address the rising concerns of vaccine side effects. According to the policy, when a child or an adult experiences adverse reactions, it can be reported to the Vaccine Averse Event Reporting System (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015). The system is coordinated by the Centre for Disease Control and Food and Drugs Administration, serving as a warning method to address problems that might be related to immunizations. The Center for Disease Control plays a significant role in the immunization policy to make sure that every American is safe and free from any adverse effect related to vaccinations. In addition, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program run by the federal government allows members of the public to file a claim because of a side effect caused by a vaccine. The program assists families that suffer from side effects of vaccines to access financial assistance, and decreases lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015).

Thimerosal and Mercury

Stratton et al. (2002) defined thimerosal as a type of preservative, which contains a certain form of mercury. The preservative was present in small amounts in a number of vaccines and offered protection against bacterial contamination. However, thimerosal was connected with health problems, such as autism. The Centre for Disease Control asserted that small amounts of the preservative had minor effects, such as redness and swelling, on the infected site. As a result, the new vaccination policy has put this into consideration. In July 1999, the federal government, being the policy maker, directed vaccine manufacturers to eliminate the preservative in any vaccination product that is available in the market. Since then, thimerosal is not a preservative, especially in childhood vaccinations. In addition, several states, including Delaware, Illinois, Washington, Missouri, and Iowa, have banned or limited the use of the preservative in childhood immunization (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015).

Adult Immunization

Adult immunization differs from children immunization in several ways. For instance, when compared to that of children, there are unique requirements, and not all facilities have the infrastructure that supports adults’ vaccination. There is no federal program that helps adults that might not have access to medical care, especially adults aged 65 and above. The policy has put in place Adult Immunization Schedule. The schedule includes vaccination for conditions such as tetanus, varicella, and Hepatitis B. The program covers certain adults that are at risk of getting the above diseases in certain populations. In addition, the policy focuses majorly on pneumococcal and influenza vaccinations for older adults (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015).

If immunization policy highlighted that vaccination was compulsory, different diseases would have been contained during their early stages. Religious belief and fear have emerged as the main concerns, sometimes occurring as impediments towards mandatory immunization. Nevertheless, the immunization policy is considerate since it acknowledges the rights of minority groups that do not buy the concept of vaccination in every state. Vaccines are not hundred percent safe because they may have some side effects, but even some drugs that are used by these factions also have side effects. The right attitude towards vaccination will help parents to have control over the life of their children, and contribute towards the eradication of deadly diseases. Policy makers will then have ample time to propose a comprehensive immunization policy that will contribute towards curbing the spread of deadly diseases.