Did you know there are more bacterial cells in your body than there are human cells? You are the host to around 500 to 1,000 different species of bacteria – tiny living things capable of responding to stimuli, reproducing, growing, and developing.
Microorganisms are fucking everywhere (literally, they are actually reproducing everywhere), but because they’re only a few micrometers in length, one micrometer equal to one-thousandth of a millimetre, they can’t be seen by the naked eye. They can cause health problems – including tuberculosis, pneumonia, and food borne illnesses – but we also rely on a natural balance of bacteria to keep us healthy.
Viruses, on the other hand, are just plain evil. Influenza, norovirus, gastroenteritis, HIV, the common cold, chickenpox, cold sores – all are caused by viruses. Bacteria are tiny compared to our cells (that’s how we can have more bacterial cells than human cells), but viruses are even smaller – small enough to infect bacteria.While bacteria can live just about anywhere, viruses need a host to survive, and oftentimes, that host is us.
Luckily, we have an immune system to fight these buggers. Through a complex network of cells, our immune system can distinguish outside invaders from our own cells, and destroy them. Most of the time, it keeps us alive, but as with so much in the world, it’s not a perfect system. With autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks healthy cells, and even if everything is working properly, you can still get sick.
Which is why we have vaccines. Vaccines are made from a weakened or dead version of the disease-causing microorganism, or sometimes from just a portion of it. Once introduced into your body, your immune system recognizes the organism as foreign, destroys it, and keeps a record, so similar organisms can be destroyed more easily in the future.
Unfortunately, a certain group of people in the world are actively spreading misinformation about vaccines.
“One of the biggest challenges we have today in this field that the anti vaccine movement has been very powerful,” said Dr. Paul Hodgson, associate director business development at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organzation International Vaccine Centre. VIDO-InterVac is a containment Level 3 facility – meaning they can work safely with lethal diseases – and one of the largest in North America.
Because the diseases vaccines prevent have become so rare (like the aforementioned measles, as well as mumps, rubella, diptheria, tetanus, polio, and even whooping cough and chickenpox), some people don’t understand the harm of not getting vaccinated.
The website jennymccarthybodycount.com (named after prominent anti-vaccer Jenny McCarthy), keeps track of how many preventable deaths have occurred in the States since 2007 due to the anti-vaccine movement. As of Jan. 31, that number was 1,324. The site also features information and photos of these rare diseases, so people can get a sense of how terrible they really are.
You’re not just hurting yourself if you choose not to get vaccinated. When the healthy adult population gets vaccinated, “it’s great for us because no one wants to lay in bed sick,” says Hodgson, and it creates herd immunity, protecting the more susceptible population, including infants and the elderly.
To some, getting a vaccine doesn’t seem “natural,” but why would anyone want to get sick fighting something naturally when they could just prevent it? Or as Hodgson puts it, “It’s your choice, but why would you ever want to go through the windshield of your car when you could put your seatbelt on?”
You can strengthen your immune system by staying healthy and not smoking, but there’s no magic bullet: most vitamins and supplements, including Cold-FX, don’t have the science to back up their claims of preventing or relieving sicknesses.
“Someone might say, I took this, and I didn’t get sick this year,” said Hodgson. “Maybe you didn’t get sick because all the people around you got vaccinated.”
Hodgson says all his kids are vaccinated following the childhood immunization schedule.
“It’s no debate in our household. People can say, you’re biased, but whether you’re biased or not, you’re not going to fool around with your kids life.”
- Vaccines do not cause autism. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a study in the Lancet that said it did, but the study has been retracted, and deemed fraudulent.
- You can’t get sick from a vaccine. Side effects include a sore arm and low-grade fever, but any other sickness you might have following vaccination is likely unrelated.
- Thimerosal is not dangerous. Thimerosal is a preservative with ethylmercury used in some flu vaccines. The amount of mercury is minute, and safer than the kind found in fish.
- Adults can protect kids by getting vaccinated. Children aren’t fully vaccinated against whooping cough until age four, and the disease is especially dangerous for young children.
This article was originally published in Planet S Magazine on 6 Feb. 2014.