There’s a lot of stuff in the media about vaccines right now, particularly here in Southern Alberta where we’re going through a measles epidemic because we have an unusual number of people in our region who don’t get vaccinated. It’s also flu shot time.
Look, it’s simple: Getting vaccinated protects you from getting sick. It also protects people around you from getting sick because, once you have been vaccinated, you can’t participate in spreading the disease around. Vaccines are among the safest and most effective methods we have for fighting illness. I know a lot of people think that measles and the flu aren’t serious diseases, but they are. The mortality rate from measles in the developed world is between 1 and 3 per 1000 cases. I don’t know about you, but I definitely would not want to bet my life against those odds, particularly when the alternative, the vaccine, involves little more than a little inconvenience. Flu mortality varies wildly with age and strain, but it’s a serious risk, too. And of course there are lots of complications that are less dramatic than death, but still very serious. Similar comments could be made about any of the diseases for which we get vaccinated.
But, you say, what about the risk of vaccine side-effects? If you’re allergic to some of the vaccine ingredients (which include things like eggs), then of course you might have a reaction. The people who administer vaccines know about these things, they ask about them, and then they make sure you stay around for a while after getting the vaccine, just in case. In some cases, they can provide an alternative formulation that excludes a particular allergen. Most of the other side-effects of vaccines are mild (muscle soreness, low-grade fever), and much less disruptive of your daily activities than the diseases they protect you against. The sensational side-effects you hear about from time to time are mostly urban legends. The health care provider administering the vaccine ought to be able to tell you about any realistic side-effects if you’re concerned.
There’s a nice Ph.D. Comics video about vaccination that has just been posted. (Ph.D. Comics does some serious stuff, and they’re really good at explaining things in language we can all understand, regardless of education.) If you need further convincing, watch it, and get vaccinated.