Every now and then we hear in the news about individuals and groups that are opposed to vaccinations. Some of these people claim that vaccines are linked to health problems such as autism and have formed powerful lobby groups that are questioning the safety of vaccines. More perplexing, these agitators are sometimes backed by a prominent scientist that can help them recruit more followers.
The main mechanism of a vaccine is based on eliciting an immune response that gives the body a head-start against invading pathogens. A vaccine is designed to trigger expansion of white blood cells that may include Cytotoxic T cells and anti-body making B lymphocytes (or both) that are the main mechanisms for the body in the fight against pathogens. Here the body’s natural ability to fight infection is exploited by exposing it to either inactivated pathogens or live pathogen that has been attenuated in a manner that it will not cause severe illness.
In the United States, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) is the main agency that is responsible for the control of diseases such as the flu which is caused by the cold virus. The flu vaccine can either be the inactivated virus or a weakened virus. The inactivated virus is recommended for pregnant women and is associated with better pregnancy outcomes. Overall, according to the CDC, the flu vaccine is the best way to protect someone against the flu virus and is recommended for individuals 6 months and above. The flu vaccine is associated with some side-effects such as pain and redness at the injections site, and mild fever and respiratory symptoms but nothing compared to the health toll that is associated with the real disease. According to the CDC director, 75% of the children who died during the 2017-2018 flu season were most likely not vaccinated. Some flu vaccines are made from egg materials and is of concern in people with egg allergy, however, some authorities recommend that people with mild egg allergy receive vaccinations because the benefits outweigh the risks.
The CDC monitors the safety of vaccines through four well defined mechanisms;
- Vaccine adverse event reporting system (VAERS)-this is an early warning system that helps the FDA and CDC monitor side-effects following vaccination.
- Vaccine safety data-link (VSD)-collects vaccine-related data between CDC and health care organizations
- Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA)-helps CDC collect data on vaccine-associated health risks in medical centers.
- Emergency preparedness for Vaccine safety-this is a program that enables the CDC activate the resources it needs in the event of a need for mass vaccinations.
According to the CDC, there is no evidence of a link between flu vaccination and Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Overall, the flu vaccine has been demonstrated to be safe and effective and its effectiveness is pronounced in some groups such as the HIV positive. Flu vaccination is recommended by the CDC and the WHO (World Health Organization) and is on the WHO essential medicines list.
Haber, Penina; Sejvar, James; Mikaeloff, Yann; Destefano, Frank (2009). “Vaccines and Guillain-Barre Syndrome”. Drug Safety. 32 (4): 309-23.
Kaplan, JE (1982). “Guillain-Barre syndrome in the United States, 1979-1980 and 1980-1981. Lack of an association with influenza vaccination”. JAMA. 248 (6): 428.
“U.S. CDC director urges flu vaccinations as pediatric deaths mount”. Reuters. 2018. Retrieved January, 2018.
“Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report. Seasonal Influenza (Flu). CDC”. www.cdc.gov. Jan, 26, 2018 Retrieved Jan 26, 2018.