Vaccination preempts infection, stops the spread of disease, and saves countless lives every year. Also known as immunization or inoculation, this invaluable preventive healthcare tool has effectively eradicated one deadly contagious disease (smallpox) and taken another (polio) to the verge of eradication. It has also brought many other serious illnesses under control.
As urgent care experts who treat acute contagious illnesses every day, our skilled team at American River Urgent Care knows firsthand that preventing a disease from occurring in the first place is always better than treating it after it develops.
Immunization against vaccine-preventable illness has the power to do just that: Protect your health — and possibly your life — from bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can wreak havoc on your body and undermine your well-being.
Despite extensive evidence to the contrary, vaccines remain mired in misconceptions and misunderstandings that make some people question their necessity, benefits, and safety. Read on as we separate fact from fiction and debunk some of the most pervasive vaccine myths.
Myth: My immune system works, so I don’t need vaccines
Fact: Yes, your immune system does work to fight off invading microorganisms; that’s its main job. But your immune system can also be overwhelmed by invading bacteria and viruses. In fact, that’s exactly what happens when you get sick with a cold, the flu, COVID-19, and other common contagious illnesses.
Your body builds stronger immunity against viral and bacterial invaders through exposure. This is largely why children catch more colds each year than adults, who’ve had many more years of immunity-building exposure to the common cold virus.
Vaccines help you build a strong immune response without exposing you to the health risks of serious, crippling, or potentially fatal diseases.
Myth: Exposure builds stronger immunity than vaccination
Fact: Exposure can build a strong immune system response, but it can also build a weak or moderate one. When you catch a mild case of the flu, for example, your body probably won’t build a robust immune system response — it will likely build defenses that match the severity of the infection.
In some cases (influenza, coronavirus), natural immunity weakens over time; that’s why we have annual flu shots and regular COVID-19 boosters. In other cases (measles, chickenpox), natural exposure to a disease often triggers a robust enough response to provide strong lifelong immunity.
In most cases, vaccination builds an even stronger response — and one that doesn’t carry major health risks. Studies show, for example, that natural immunity to COVID-19 dwindles over time, waning more quickly than immunity built through vaccination. Getting vaccinated and boosted is the best way to foster strong, longer-lasting immunity.
If you decided it was better to build natural immunity against the measles by contracting it, you’d have a 1 in 4 chance of requiring hospitalization, and a 1 in 1,000 chance of dying from the disease. The MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella), on the other hand, poses minimal risk and helps you build optimal immunity against the virus.
Myth: Vaccines aren’t necessary for rare diseases
Fact: Some parents feel there’s no pressing need to immunize their children against less common contagious diseases like polio or pertussis (whooping cough) if such illnesses rarely or never circulate in their local communities.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to look further than the recent news cycle to find out just how wrong this approach is. In September 2022, New York declared a state of emergency after the continued detection of the polio virus in the wastewater of several New York counties. The polio virus, which had been on the brink of eradication, is now actively circulating in New York (and possibly elsewhere).
Simply put, when most people in a community are vaccinated against a highly contagious disease like polio, it creates a beneficial effect called “herd immunity.” When too many people stop vaccinating themselves or their children against uncommon illnesses, however, it creates an opening for viruses and bacteria to establish themselves and spread.
The recent national measles resurgence is another example of long-established herd immunity diminished by vaccine hesitancy and declining vaccination rates.
The bottom line on vaccination
The bottom line remains clear: Vaccines offer unparalleled protection from a range of serious illnesses and pose little risk unless you’re allergic to the ingredients, in which case you should avoid them. Staying up to date on your immunizations doesn’t just help you — it helps infants who are too young to get vaccinated, as well as anyone who’s immunocompromised because of cancer treatment or an autoimmune disorder.
Whether you’re due for a flu shot, a COVID booster, or a routine vaccine during your annual physical exam, we can help. Stop by our walk-in clinic during normal business hours, or call or click online to schedule a visit at American River Urgent Care in Orangevale, California, today.