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August 27, 2013

ULM professor offers advice for National Immunization Awareness Month

In honor of August as National Immunization Awareness Month, University of Louisiana at Monroe Assistant Professor of Nursing Sherilyn Wiggins advocates the importance of immunizations for all community members.

"Diseases can be deadly," said Wiggins. "And immunizations can help protect us from them."

In order to understand immunizations, it is important to understand the terminology.

The Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website defines immunization as "the process by which a person or animal becomes protected against a disease."

A vaccination is an "injection of a killed or weakened infectious organism in order to prevent the disease," and a vaccine is "a product that produces immunity therefore protecting the body from the disease."

The CDC goes on to say that a vaccine may be administered "through needle injections, by mouth, and by aerosol."

"The purpose of immunizations is to protect individuals and communities against diseases that in some cases can be fatal," said Wiggins.

Throughout history, immunization has proven a controversial subject.

While Wiggins admitted, "There are risks associated with immunization just as there are with any medications that we take," she went on to say, "However, for most people, the risk of complications from the disease outweighs the risk from the vaccine itself."

Addressing recent publicized campaigns against immunization, Wiggins said, "Many times rumor and false information gets spread, which causes panic."

The CDC website states, "If there were no vaccines, there would be many more cases of disease, and along with the more disease, there would be… more deaths."

Wiggins said, "Getting immunized actually serves a dual purpose. It protects the person who is getting immunized, of course, but it also helps to protect other people and the community as a whole."

She describes a scenario in which she, despite receiving a flu shot every year, neglects immunization and becomes ill.

"Most likely, I would recover just fine and return to my normal life," she said. "What would happen, though, if during my contagious phase, before I knew I was sick, I passed the virus to my elderly mother or a class full of students? What if those students then spread it to their hospital patients?"

The number of infected, at risk individuals would rise quickly.

"Many of the diseases we think of as no big deal can cause permanent damage or even death to vulnerable people," said Wiggins.

"Usually, it is the very young, the very old, or people who already have a weakened immunity, though not always."

She points to a recent outbreak of measles in an area where large numbers of people had refused the vaccine as evidence.

"This has also occurred with Pertussis (whooping cough) and other diseases, ones we thought had been eradicated," she said.

In the end, she proposed open communication with healthcare officials, insisting, "Each person should discuss the risks and benefits with his or her health care provider so they can make an informed decision."

The CDC stands behind the value of immunizations, noting, "In the U.S., vaccines have reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that once routinely killed or harmed many infants, children, and adults."

Vaccines defend the community from viruses and bacteria that "still exist and can be passed on to people who are not protected."

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