Are Vaccines Still Necessary?
Although we may not see many vaccine-preventable diseases in Oregon or elsewhere in the United States, it does not mean that these diseases have been eradicated. Vaccines have worked so successfully that we have seen a decrease of the diseases in the United States.
However, when vaccination rates decrease, diseases become more common in our communities again. For instance, the measles outbreaks across the United States in 2014 and 2015 occurred largely in unvaccinated persons.
Imagine a community garden filled with healthy vegetables and beautiful flowers. In addition to watering the plants and mulching the soil, the volunteers must weed regularly. If too many volunteers show up and remove all of the weeds, they may decide that the number of weeds has dropped so much that no more volunteers are necessary. Without regular weeding, the weeds grow uncontrollably and threaten the vegetables and flowers. The garden then needs to bring back its weeding volunteers.
By going back and forth with either too many or too few volunteers, the garden gets caught in a never-ending cycle. The better alternative would be to determine the right number of volunteers needed to keep the weeds at a level acceptable to the community garden. Vaccines work much in the same way.
If we stop vaccinating because we don’t see a particular disease in our community, that disease will return. Some diseases, like smallpox, may be eradicated globally and allow us to stop vaccinating for it. But reaching the point of eradication takes decades, and that process takes even longer the more we stop and start vaccinating. We have a long way to go to eradicate many other childhood diseases, but the more consistent effort we invest, the more progress we make.
Leah, Portland OR
"I have lived and worked in other countries, and I have family in northeastern Brazil, a place where some vaccines only became available to the general public recently. I have family and friends who are doctors and scientists, some of whom have treated illnesses that could have been prevented with vaccines.
They have had to comfort the parents of children who were disfigured, brain- damaged, or died as a result of preventable illnesses. I lived in Denver, Colorado, where one of my colleagues still walks with great difficulty and the help of crutches, as he has for most of his life, because he did not receive the polio vaccine as a child and then contracted the disease.
I know that most people in Oregon have not seen the horror that diseases can do. That is not just because we are lucky. That is because modern medicine has developed vaccines to prevent the spread and the damage of those diseases. Recently while on a vacation, my family witnessed a terrible car accident. One car had flipped over several times and landed on its roof. In the other car, a passenger was stuck between his steering wheel and his seat back. As the first responders, we kept the victims alert and talking until the paramedics arrived. Every single one of them was wearing a seat belt. Every single one of them walked away with only minor injuries.
Their outcome was not luck; it was the result of the science behind seat belts, air bags, and crumple zones, technology that allows us to live longer, healthier lives and to survive the things that killed and maimed people in the past.
Similarly, I think of vaccines as life-saving technology. My children and myself
will be out in the world, and there is always a chance that we will be exposed to a disease that could hurt or kill us. But, thanks to the modern technology of vaccines, we have a chance to walk away from them, unharmed."
Next: Are Vaccines Safe?