Childhood Vaccination: Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
Bianca Y. Miller
Springfield Technical Community College
Vaccination is a term used to describe the act of introducing an antigen into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease. Immunity refers to the body’s ability to protect itself from infection and disease by pathogens. Vaccines may contain inactive, weakened, or live forms of pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. However, they do not cause disease. When vaccines are administered, the body responds by producing antibodies to counteract the antigen, which leads to immunity. This form of immunity is known as adaptive, or acquired immunity. A natural immunity afforded to an individual at birth, is known as innate immunity. Unlike adaptive immunity, innate immunity is nonspecific. Therefore, it offers minimal protection against infectious disease.
Infectious diseases are among the leading causes of mortality worldwide. Approximately 2.5 million deaths occur every year due to vaccine-preventable diseases. Preventable diseases are responsible for 14% of the global mortality for children under 5 years old, or 1.5 million deaths each year (WHO, 2009). For this reason, childhood vaccination has become a public health imperative.
From a historical perspective, vaccination is a relatively new medical intervention. Before the late 18th century, prevention of disease with the use of vaccines was unheard of. The very first vaccine was introduced by Edward Jenner in 1796. It was developed to prevent Small Pox, a debilitating disease that particularly affected young children. Today, Jenner is well known around the world for his innovative contribution to immunization and the ultimate eradication of smallpox in 1979 (Reidel).
Although vaccines were developed decades earlier, universal childhood immunization did not begin until the late 1970’s. During that time, infants began to follow an immunization schedule which began early in their lives. Newborns were vaccinated at birth and they were required to get specific vaccines before attending public school. Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis were among the six diseases the vaccines aimed to target. Since then, new vaccines have been developed, and added to the regimen. We can now immunize against Varicella, Influenza, Meningitis, and Hepatitis (CDC, 2018).
According to Barraza, Schmit, and Hoss (2017) all 50 states in the United States of America require that children be up-to-date on their vaccines. Based on the child’s age, certain doses of a vaccine are mandated to advance to the next grade level. Every state also has their own laws regarding exemptions from vaccination requirements that include medical, religious, and philosophical reasons (CDC, 2017).
Few measures in public health can compare with the impact of the vaccination process. Vaccines have reduced disease, disability, and death from a variety of infectious diseases. A recent analysis of 13 vaccines used to treat infectious diseases estimated that for a single birth cohort nearly 20 million cases of diseases were prevented, including over 40,000 deaths (Ahmed ; Orenstein, 2017). Despite its effectiveness, many parents in modern society, still have concerns about vaccinating their children. On the surface, parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their children may seem like a matter of personal preference, or freedom of choice. However, vaccines provide benefits not only to the individual themselves, but they also provide protection for the community and future generations.