Why do we need immunisation?

Written by rebeccah

It’s World Immunisation Week!

Diseases such as measles, tetanus and polio have the potential to cause significant illness with symptoms such as fever, weakness, fatigue and pain, and can cause long-term complications or even become life threatening. Immunisation can reduce the risk of getting sick or experiencing severe symptoms and move towards eradicating diseases from the community. 

Immunisation is the process of receiving a vaccine in order to prepare your immune system to have a strong defence when we come into contact with a specific infectious disease, preventing us from becoming sick or lessening the extent of our symptoms. This is often what people refer to when they say they are “immune” to a disease. 

Currently, there are more than 20 diseases which are prevented by vaccines. 

Light blue square image with medium blue irregular blobs randomly spaced in the background with dark blue squiggles. Image in the centre of a nurse administering a vaccine to a child with their parent beside them. Text underneath image reads “world immunisation day”. Small picture above text on the left side of image of a syringe. Small picture above text on the right of image of a vial containing liquid.

Essentially, vaccines work by creating memory in our body – our cells “practice” how to get rid of the virus (without actually getting sick) and remember how to do it for the next time we are exposed. 

This process happens naturally in our bodies all the time (called natural immunity). Each time we get sick, our body fights of the germ and then creates memory cells to protects us in the future. Vaccines are helpful in creating an immunity (called acquired immunity) for diseases we haven’t yet experienced and also improves the effectiveness of our immunity and how long we remain immune to diseases we have already contracted in the past. 

Think of vaccines as a type of medicine, but instead of taking it once we feel symptoms, we take it beforehand to prevent us from getting sick altogether. 

Vaccines are commonly given as an injection but can also be given orally or as a nasal spray. They contain a dead, very weak or modified form of the germ (called antigens) which does not contain the “infectious” component . This allows our body to respond as if we have been exposed to the disease without actually experiencing any of the symptoms. When our body detects the presence of an antigen, our immune system initiates a response which includes releasing antibodies. These are specialised cells that fight off an infection. A particular type of these cells are called “memory” cells – they help to get rid of the infection and last in the body for long periods of time so that the next time were are exposed our body can respond faster and prevent from experiencing severe symptoms (including death) or from getting sick at all. 

Some people aren’t able to receive vaccinations for a variety of reasons (such as having a compromised immune system from illness, being too young or previous allergic or anaphylactic reactions to vaccines), leaving them vulnerable to many contagious diseases. If everyone who can be vaccinated does, then we can protect those who can’t receive the vaccine as we are prevent ourselves from becoming sick, and therefore prevent the spread of the diseases to those without immunity. If these vulnerable members of society do become sick, they are more likely to experience severe symptoms and are at a higher risk of death.

The most common vaccines that are currently in use are:

  • Influenza
  • Whooping cough (pertussis)
  • Chicken pox (varicella)
  • Measles
  • Tetanus
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Diphtheria
  • Covid-19

The main aim of our vaccination system is to prevent people dying from these diseases, but did you know there’s a variety of additional benefits to reducing the severity of symptoms people experience and reducing the overall length of illness. Such as:

  • Eradicating the disease completely (e.g. smallpox) or almost completely (e.g. polio)
  • Preventing long-term health complications
  • Reducing the strain on our healthcare services
  • Reducing time taken off work – less impact on your income

Humanly Possible: Saving lives through immunisation

Find more of our health tips here.

Book an appointment with us here or call us on 9651 5559. 

Better Health Channel. 2022. Vaccines. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/vaccines

Therapeutic Goods Administration. Vaccines. https://www.tga.gov.au/products/medicines/vaccines#:~:text=Vaccines%20are%20medicines%20that%20protect,or%20as%20a%20nasal%20spray.

World Health Organization. Vaccines and immunization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/vaccines-and-immunization#tab=tab_1

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