Ask the Surgeon General 4-17

Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, M.D., M.S.

1) We’ve heard a lot about vaccines lately. Why is immunization such an important issue?
     Vaccines are considered one of the greatest public health achievements of all time and help to keep everyone safe from deadly diseases. Many of the diseases from which people suffered in the past are now gone (for example, polio in the United States) or are rare (such as mumps and measles) because of vaccines. Another important issue is the fact that many African Americans are not fully vaccinated. 2004 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for children under three years of age, who have completed vaccinations, shows that African American children in Detroit are 20 percent less likely than the rest of the state to be completely protected.  Additionally, less than half of African Americans over age 65 received a flu shot and only 35 percent received a pneumonia shot.
     I urge you to contact your health care provider to find out if you and/or your children are up-to-date on your immunizations. If you do not have a health care provider, contact your local health department.

2) How do vaccines work?

    Vaccines work by telling the person’s immune system to prepare itself for possible exposure to disease-causing viruses or bacteria. Then, when the person is actually exposed to the germ, the body knows exactly what to do to fight off the disease. This not only protects the immunized person, but it often limits the germ’s ability to pass from person-to-person. Thus, people who cannot be immunized because of underlying medical conditions or who fail to respond to immunization are still protected by what is referred to as community or herd immunity.

3) Some parents worry that their child will get autism or asthma if they get shots.  Do vaccines cause these diseases? Are vaccines safe?

     The Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration closely monitor the safety of vaccines, and there are also vaccine safety centers at several universities. From everything we know today, we believe that shots do not cause autism, asthma, diabetes, or other diseases. More research is needed to understand and prevent these diseases. And just because symptoms appear after a shot, doesn’t necessarily mean that the shot caused the symptoms.
     As Surgeon General, a physician, and a mother, I believe that vaccines do work for most people. They work because we know fewer children get a disease as more children get shots (Hib or chickenpox) and shots are safe even when they are given all at once (the immune system is not overloaded). To learn more about immunization, visit www.michigan.gov/mdch (see the Children and Families section).

   Send questions to Ask the Surgeon General, P.O. Box 1234, Lansing, MI 48056.