Vaccines have been held up as one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. Not only do they greatly reduce the suffering and death caused by illness, they reduce the cost of care significantly by preventing disease.
Examples range from what is generally considered childhood diseases such as polio and measles, to diseases such as influenza and pertussis (whooping cough) that affect people of all ages. Vaccines that prevent the childhood disease chickenpox also prevent adults from developing shingles since both come from the same virus, varicella-zoster. Another vaccine, the HPV vaccine, prevents multiple forms of cancer.
In some cases, diseases have all but disappeared thanks to strenuous vaccination efforts. You rarely hear of smallpox, diphtheria, or rubella today thanks to vaccines.
Development of vaccines has been a discussion of conversation lately with the rapid introduction of the COVID vaccines. "What has typically been a multi-year process has been compressed into an incredible 12 months," said Tamara Sheffield, MD, medical director for Intermountain Healthcare Community Health and Prevention.
Sheffield, who works closely with state and federal partners on vaccine practices and guidelines said the process has been sped up, but steps weren't skipped nor was safety compromised.
"The same phased trials have been conducted around the world, involving tens of thousands of people, that would be conducted with any vaccine," said Sheffield.
"We have seen the same development hurdles and challenges for COVID that we have seen for shingles, influenza, or other vaccines," said Sheffield. "No vaccine protects perfectly. Nor are all vaccines without potential symptoms or side effects. However, by and large, the risks associated with vaccines are far, far less than those associated with the diseases they protect against."
At present, the COVID vaccine is only approved for individuals over the age of 16. There are current trials underway for children as young as six months, but development and approval for those ages are potentially months away.
"At this time, our goal is to create herd immunity to COVID in the adult population to help us to protect our children," said Sheffield. "We work to create the same protection for other diseases such as pertussis for young children that can't yet receive the vaccine or have only partial protection because they haven't had the opportunity to receive the full round of vaccine."
"If a disease isn't circulating in the community, then it is harder or impossible for someone to be exposed and fall ill," said Sheffield.
World Immunization Week, April 24-30, is a great time to look at the other vaccinations an individual should receive. "We don't want to give COVID vaccine within 14 days of other vaccines," said Sheffield. "We want the best protection we can get from our COVID vaccinations, and the clinical trials did not test to see how other vaccines might impact the effectiveness of the COIVD vaccine. By separating them, we are more confident we will get the same good results as those in the studies."
"Right now is a great time to catch up kids on other vaccinations because they don't yet have the opportunity to receive the COVID vaccine," said Sheffield. "Check with your pediatrician to see what vaccines are recommended, or what you might need to catch up on."
"Vaccines are a great way to create natural and lasting protection against viruses and illness," said Sheffield. "We put kids in car seats, encourage them to wear helmets, and give them good foods and warm clothes to protect them. Vaccines are one more way we keep our kids healthy and safe."
"And while we are protecting our kids, we can protect ourselves as well," adds Sheffield. "If we protect ourselves from COVID, we protect our children, our aging parents, and those in the community that are at risk. The COVID vaccine can help us to get back to spending time with those we care about doing the things we care about with the peace of mind that we are protected."