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Vaccination is a simple, safe, and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases, before they come into contact with them. It uses your body’s natural defenses to build resistance to specific infections and makes your immune system stronger.
Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it’s exposed to a disease. However, because vaccines contain only killed or weakened forms of germs like viruses or bacteria, they do not cause the disease or put you at risk of its complications.
Most vaccines are given by an injection, but some are given orally (by mouth) or sprayed into the nose.
Vaccines reduce risks of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defenses to build protection. When you get a vaccine, your immune system responds. It:
- Recognizes the invading germ, such as the virus or bacteria.
- Produces antibodies. Antibodies are proteins produced naturally by the immune system to fight disease.
- Remembers the disease and how to fight it. If you are then exposed to the germ in the future, your immune system can quickly destroy it before you become unwell.
The vaccine is therefore a safe and clever way to produce an immune response in the body, without causing illness.
Our immune systems are designed to remember. Once exposed to one or more doses of a vaccine, we typically remain protected against a disease for years, decades or even a lifetime. This is what makes vaccines so effective. Rather than treating a disease after it occurs, vaccines prevent us in the first instance from getting sick.
Vaccination is safe and side effects from a vaccine are usually minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. More serious side effects are possible, but extremely rare.
Any licensed vaccine is rigorously tested across multiple phases of trials before it is approved for use, and regularly reassessed once it is introduced. Scientists are also constantly monitoring information from several sources for any sign that a vaccine may cause health risks.
Remember, you are far more likely to be seriously injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine. For example, tetanus can cause extreme pain, muscle spasms (lockjaw) and blood clots, measles can cause encephalitis (an infection of the brain) and blindness. Many vaccine-preventable diseases can even result in death. The benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the risks, and many more illnesses and deaths would occur without vaccines.
Are there side effects from vaccines?
Like any medicine, vaccines can cause mild side effects, such as a low-grade fever, or pain or redness at the injection site. Mild reactions go away within a few days on their own.
Severe or long-lasting side effects are extremely rare. Vaccines are continually monitored for safety, to detect rare adverse events.
Can a child be given more than one vaccine at a time?
Scientific evidence shows that giving several vaccines at the same time has no negative effect. Children are exposed to several hundred foreign substances that trigger an immune response every day. The simple act of eating food introduces new germs into the body, and numerous bacteria live in the mouth and nose.
When a combined vaccination is possible (e.g. for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus), this means fewer injections and reduces discomfort for the child. It also means that your child is getting the right vaccine at the right time, to avoid the risk of contracting a potentially deadly disease.
Is there a link between vaccines and autism?
There is no evidence of any link between vaccines and autism or autistic disorders. This has been demonstrated in many studies, conducted across very large populations.
The 1998 study which raised concerns about a possible link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism was later found to be seriously flawed and fraudulent. The paper was subsequently retracted by the journal that published it, and the doctor that published it lost his medical license. Unfortunately, its publication created fear that led to dropping immunization rates in some countries, and subsequent outbreaks of these diseases.
We must all ensure we are taking steps to share only credible, scientific information on vaccines, and the diseases they prevent.