Back to school immunization
It’s difficult to believe that we’re almost at the end of January. But even though it’s still high summer, there is one inevitable fact that’s going to happen all-too-soon for our young people here in the Australia: and that’s the start of the new school year.
If my memory serves me correctly, the first days back at school usually coincide with some of the hottest days of the year, so my sympathies go out to all the students. But I sincerely wish them a great year at their various academies, and of course I wish them the best of health during the year.
One of the downsides of getting all our young people to gather so closely together in the school environment, is that it’s far easier for infections to spread rapidly amongst them. Once they've spread through the school, many students will bring the infection home with them, and it then spreads out into the community! The focus of all good community health programs is to prevent this from happening, or at least to reduce the impact of any contagious infection.
So it’s a great time to check that your child has as much protection as possible against all these potentially serious infections. In other words, have they had all their “shots”?
Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective health interventions available, saving millions of people around the world from illness, disability and death each year. Effective and safe vaccines, which protect against more than 20 serious diseases, are available and many promising new vaccines are being developed.
Nearly all the vaccines that are in current use work with our immune system to help protect our bodies against harmful infections. Normally, when we get, say, a bad flu that overpowers our immune system and makes us sick, 99.9% of us will get over it after 10 to 14 days. What’s also happens during the course of the infection is that our immune system will code information from that particular flu virus, and if it were ever to literally “get up our noses” in the future and attempt to re-infect us, our immune system would be able to produce billions of defensive cells in a few hours which would mop up the virus before it has a chance to make us sick.
Vaccinations attempt to do something very similar. Scientists can take a nasty, infectious disease like measles and breed it in chicken eggs until it’s become so weak that it is no longer infectious, and then introduce a minuscule amount of this “live attenuated” virus via a vaccine. This vaccine then “primes” those defensive, killer, immune cells to recognise the virus should it ever appear in our bodies in the future. Other vaccines, such as the HPV vaccine, are literally engineered to produce some of the surface proteins of the HPV virus - without any DNA or other “living” parts of the virus - and deliver them via vaccination, so that our immune cells learn to detect them and remove them from our bodies, should they ever be exposed to them.
All vaccinations are under constant review and constant surveillance: and newer, more advanced vaccinations are always being studied to see if they can improve upon, and then perhaps replace some of those that have been in use for some decades. Vaccination programs are not static programs, they are constantly being updated by the experts to ensure that we are getting the safest and the best preventative treatment currently available.
Vaccination programs are there to help protect the whole community.
Infectious diseases are not “owned” by anyone - in fact “they” choose to live in us: and there’s a whole lot more of them than us. If I were a guessing man I would think that for every human there are probably ten billion virus particles of varying strains in that person’s local environment. Not all of them are going to make us sick - some are probably even on our side - but it does illustrate that we are very vulnerable to catching infectious diseases. That’s why we all need to maintain vigilance, and a high level of personal protection, so that we don’t pass on those more serious infections to those who cannot fight them so well - infants, the aged, cancer patients on treatment and those who require immune suppressing medications. All these people are a part of our communities and we all play a part in protecting them.
So as our young people head back to school, check out the WA Health Department webpage to ensure that you’re helping to protect your child, your family, your friends and all those who you meet in your community.