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Immunizations Are Safe and Prevent Disease //

By Dr. Ross Van Camp


Immunizations are important to health at all ages.  Each vaccine activates your body’s immune system to make antibodies that fight that infection when exposed to that specific disease.  They are the single most important advancement in medicine and have been responsible for the prevention of many severe infections.


Immunizations should start at birth and continue through old age.  They prevent infections that once caused severe illness, permanent disability, and even death to many Americans.  Infections that were once nearly universal have now become rare.  With this success, many people have forgotten the terrible health consequences these diseases caused.  While rare complications from vaccine receive widespread publicity, the dramatic improvement in health may go unrecognized.  There are significant risks to avoiding vaccinations for the individual and for the community.  

Consider measles, for example.  Measles is caused by a virus that is spread by coughing and sneezing.  When exposed to measles, 90% of the time someone who has not been vaccinated will get the disease. The majority of people who get measles have a severe illness lasting one week with high fever, cough, and a red rash that spreads over the body.  One of every three people with the illness will have complications that can include seizures, pneumonia, and permanent deafness.  The death rate from the illness is up to 1 in 20 infected in some areas of the world, and 2 in 1,000 in the US.  There is still no treatment for measles. Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, The Centers for Disease Control estimated that 3-4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of those people, 400-500 died, up to 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling) from measles.  After immunization became routine, annual cases of measles declined rapidly.  


By the year 2000, ongoing measles transmission was eliminated in the U.S. However, there are still cases of measles in the U.S. that occur when someone travels to the U.S. from an area where active transmission is still present.  Just two doses of immunization is 97% effective in preventing disease.  There are some people who cannot receive the vaccine because of specific allergies, cancer, or diseases of the immune system, and these people can get a very severe illness if exposed to someone infected with measles.

There are many different vaccine preventable diseases.  Each disease is unique in the age group that is susceptible, the route of transmission, and the specific antibodies that your immune system must create for the body to defend itself.  Therefore, the vaccines are given at specific ages, routes, and schedules.  Some are taken by mouth, some injected into the muscle, and some are injected under the skin.  Some vaccines are only needed if you travel to specific areas of the world, such as yellow fever vaccine.  Some vaccines are only given to people of specific ages, such as the shingles vaccine for adults 60 and older and rotavirus vaccine for children less than 8 months old.  The influenza vaccine should be given each year to nearly everyone. The influenza virus constantly changes, which allows it to hide from our immune system, so each year the vaccine is changed to keep you protected from the newest strains.  

All vaccines have gone through extensive testing for safety and effectiveness.  They are constantly being monitored for problems as they are used in a large number of people.  There is no link between vaccinations and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).  Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative added to some vaccines in very small amounts.  There is no proof that it causes any harm and it has been removed from most vaccines since 2001.  About 4 of every 10,000 children will have a febrile seizure after their first Mumps, Measles, and Rubella (MMR) shot.  These seizures do not cause any long-term problems.


Most vaccines are available in Seward, and many are provided by the State of Alaska at no cost to the patient. Visit Seward Community Health Center or call 907-224-CARE (2273) if you would like to receive or discuss vaccinations for yourself or your children.

Visit Seward Community Health Center or call 907-224-CARE (2273) if you would like to receive or discuss vaccinations for yourself or your children.  More information can be found at

Immunization Schedules by Age Group
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