August is National Immunization Awareness Month. This annual observance highlights the importance of vaccinations for people of all ages. In fact, Ronald Warner, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Community Physicians says keeping up with your vaccinations is one of the most important steps you can take to maintain good health and to prevent the spread of infection in your community.
“Of all the medical advances of the 20th century, the eradication and prevention of life threatening and serious infectious diseases through immunizations ranks high on the list,” says Dr. Warner. “Fatal viral infections such as smallpox have been eradicated though vaccination. Poliovirus infection, which caused 15,000 cases of paralysis per year in the 1950s, was eliminated from the United States by 1990 through a highly successful vaccine program. In addition, frightening bacterial infections caused by streptococcus (pneumonia, meningitis) and meningococcus (meningitis) can be prevented with timely vaccinations. Several viruses (hepatitis B, human papillomavirus or HPV) are even strongly associated with the development of cancer and these can now be neutralized with vaccination.”
Today, infectious diseases continue to pose a challenge for many reasons. “Humans are susceptible to numerous infectious agents from infancy through adolescence into adulthood and old age. The ability to defend against infections changes throughout a person’s lifespan,” explains Dr. Warner. “Also, an increasing number of people take medications to suppress their immune system. These include patients who have received an organ transplant or are under treatment for cancer, autoimmune diseases or inflammatory diseases.”
To protect yourself and those most vulnerable in your community, Dr. Warner recommends everyone stay up to date on their vaccinations. The best way to do this is by making an appointment with your primary care physician. Pediatricians, family practice physicians and internal medicine physicians have extensive training in immunization schedules and vaccine effectiveness and safety. At Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, experienced infectious disease specialists are readily available to consult with the hospital’s primary care community when it comes to complex vaccine-related issues and the medical staff regularly attend seminars to stay current with the latest recommendations.
The recent outbreak of the measles virus in the United States is a scary reminder about the potential for the resurgence of preventable infections when there is a lapse in vaccinations. “There is a great deal of misinformation about catastrophic effects of vaccines,” says Dr. Warner. “While all vaccines have potential side effects, they are often minor and self-limited and should not be feared. Plus, regulatory agencies are constantly monitoring vaccine safety and recent data show the current United States vaccine supply is the safest in history.”
If you’re in need of a vaccine, call 617-983-7500 to schedule an appointment with a Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital primary care physician today!
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