How vaccines work and why it’s more important than ever to stay on track

By: Dr. Joseph Mechak
Vaccines are the single most powerful tool that we have to fight disease. Thanks to vaccines we have been able to eradicate or nearly-eradicate dozens of deadly infections like polio, smallpox, measles, and many others.  One scary consequence from the Coronavirus could be a resurgence of these vaccine-preventable diseases. The American Academy of Pediatrics and all of us at Potomac Pediatrics believe very strongly that keeping your child on schedule for their vaccines is the most important thing you can do for their health and the health of our community at this time.
Vaccines work in 2 ways: 
First, vaccines provide your child direct immunity towards a disease.  Vaccines are made of a weakened version or small piece of a virus or bacteria (an antigen). These antigens do not cause any disease but when injected into your child’s body, the body recognizes the antigen as an intruder and mounts an immune response. The end product of this immune response is the development of antibodies.  Antibodies are a form of immune memory that help mount a fast, efficient, and robust immune response if your child ever comes in contact with that specific virus or bacteria again.

photo credit: CDC [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

The second way vaccines work is through something called herd immunity.  On a population level, the more people that have protection against a disease, the fewer people there are to spread it.  Also, when more people are vaccinated, the chances of someone with the disease spreading it to someone who is not protected with a vaccine is very small. Herd immunity only works if a very high percentage of the population are vaccinated. 

Photo Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

Herd immunity is very important because it is the ONLY protection that some of our younger and immunocompromised children have against these vaccine-preventable diseases.  For example, we cannot give the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine until 12 months old, so all children under 12 months rely on this herd immunity for protection against measles, mumps, and rubella. 
This is where Coronavirus comes in.  If many people in our community start to delay or skip their vaccines out of fear of leaving their house or fear of coming into the office, it is possible that we could lose this herd immunity to some of these vaccine-preventable diseases.  We do not want this to happen!
It take a herd to protect our most vulnerable children and we hope that you and your family will continue to do your part to protect our community!  If you have concerns or reservations about your upcoming visits or vaccines, please contact the office and we are happy to work with you!