Did you know that one hundred years ago, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide?
In Canada, they now cause less than five per cent of all deaths – thanks to immunization programs.
Immunization is the most effective way to protect yourself, and your community by preventing the spread of disease. In fact, Immunize Canada predicts that immunization has saved more lives in Canada in the last 50 years than any other health intervention.
Even with substantial research and proven effectiveness on global health issues, many people still have questions about the safety of vaccines. We strongly encourage all Nova Scotians to become educated around vaccine safety and to discuss these questions with your doctor.
Are vaccines safe?
Vaccines used in Canada are safe and effective. They are developed in accordance with the highest standards and are continually monitored for safety and effectiveness. In fact, it takes approximately 10 years of research and development before a vaccine can be considered for approval by Health Canada.
The safety of vaccines is closely monitored by the Public Health Agency of Canada with the assistance of public health officials and individual health care providers.
It’s common for people to question the risks associated with immunization, and these questions should be discussed with your doctor. Some people worry that vaccines can cause health problems, such as autism or sudden infant death syndrome. Expert research committees in Canada, and around the world, have investigated reports of serious effects over many years. They have found no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism or any other illnesses.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines have had a huge impact on the number of children affected by serious diseases. Most children today are immunized, resulting in a number of vaccine-preventable diseases nearly disappearing. However, these diseases can, and do, come back. For example, consider the outbreak of measles in Toronto in 2008 and mumps in Nova Scotia in 2007.
Vaccines boost the body’s own immune defence system, creating an immunity that protects you from an infection. They are effective in protecting people from diseases that cause severe illness, disability or even death.
The Public Health Agency of Canada explains the process as:
- Most vaccines contain a little bit of a disease germ that is weak or dead. Vaccines do not contain the type of germ that makes you sick. Some vaccines do not contain any germs.
- Having this little bit of the germ inside your body makes your body’s defence system build antibodies to fight off this kind of germ. Antibodies help trap and kill germs that could lead to disease.
- Your body can make antibodies in two ways: by getting the disease or by getting the vaccine. Getting the vaccine is a much safer way to make antibodies without having the suffering of the disease itself and the risk of becoming very ill.
- Antibodies stay with you for a long time. They remember how to fight off the germ. If the real germ that causes this disease (not the vaccine) enters your body in the future, your defence system knows how to fight it off.
- Often, your defence system will remember how to fight a germ for the rest of your life. Sometimes, your defence system needs a booster shot to remind it how to fight off this germ.
Are there any risks associated with immunizations?
As with any medical procedure, immunization has some risks. Individuals may react differently to each vaccine. When considering immunization, both the risks and the benefits should be discussed with your doctor. Most vaccine side effects are minor and self-limited, lasting only a few days and not disrupting daily activities. The benefits of immunization outweigh the risks is most cases.
There is a lot of information on the Internet about immunizations. Some of it is helpful, accurate and evidence based, and some of it is speculation. Unfortunately misinformation can lead to a loss of confidence which threatens the continued success of immunization programs. It’s important to be educated on the benefits and risks associated with immunization. To help, we’ve pulled a list of resources for further reading: