What is vaccination?
Vaccination involves giving somebody a tiny, tiny dose of something very similar to the disease you are trying protect them against – a simple but far from obvious idea.
How does it work?
It works because this tiny dose stimulates the body’s natural defences against the disease so that the individual then becomes immune to (protected against) future attacks.
The idea dates back to ancient Greece when Thucydides noticed that people who had survived a small pox plague in Athens did not catch it again when the plague reappeared. They had built up an immunity.
Modern vaccines were developed in the late eighteenth century in England by Dr Edward Jenner, left. He noticed that milkmaids did not generally catch small pox – then a major killer throughout Europe - but that they often caught a very similar but far less dangerous disease, cow pox. His research showed that a small dose of cow pox protected against small pox, a breakthrough that has since saved millions of lives.
The idea behind mass vaccination is that if everybody is vaccinated against a particular disease the disease itself dies out as it’s got nowhere to go. Small pox was finally wiped out worldwide in 1980.
Vaccination is one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine. The NHS believes that ‘no other medical intervention has done more to save lives and improve quality of life’.
Sounds great but aren’t vaccines just for kids?
In the UK, children are vaccinated on a routine basis against many diseases including measles, mumps, whooping cough and meningitis.
But adults can also be vaccinated for foreign travel and for other reasons too. Adult vaccination is what this section of malehealth is all about. We’ll cover:
How are vaccinations given?
Usually through a small injection but it's no big deal - yes, in the picture above, that's US president Barack Obama being a big brave boy.
You're trying to needle me. Are there any side-effects?
All medicines can cause side-effects and vaccines are no different. As an adult you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons for yourself.
Because vaccines are taken by a large number of people, some of them are bound to experience side-effects. But this does not mean that you as an individual are at higher risk of side-effects. In fact vaccines in general are among the safest of drugs.
The needle might be a bit painful and there can be swelling and bit of grogginess but really serious reactions are rare. According to the NHS, anaphylactic shock – an allergic reaction that happens within minutes of taking the vaccine – happens in less than one case in a million in vaccines as a whole although obviously some are riskier than others.
If you’ve ever had a bad reaction to a vaccine tell your doctor before having another one. Also tell them beforehand if you are not well, on medication, have a weakened immune system or have any other concerns.
Where can I get more information?
The NHS has a good section on Adult Vaccines which we used in putting this section of malehealth together.
Images in the vaccination section were sourced from the Wikimedia Commons or Flikr (johnnyalive, Scott Ableman) or other open sources. They are for illustration only and don't show particular vaccines, needles or contagium. The Obama image is an official White House photo by Pete Souza.
The Vaccines section of malehealth has kindly been sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur MSD.
Page created on August 11th, 2010
Page updated on September 6th, 2010