SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — August is Immunization Awareness Month. Immunizations are vital to both service members and their families, helping to maintain individual medical readiness and physical health.
Although it is imperative to wash hands and cover coughs, keeping up with vaccines is key to preventing future headaches as both school and flu seasons draw closer.
Vaccines work by introducing dead or weakened viral or bacterial cells into the human body, giving the immune system a chance to develop antibodies which help fight to prevent the disease in the future.
“Vaccines can prevent serious illness and complications from vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Tech. Sgt. Richard Sangston, 20th Medical Operations Squadron immunizations clinic noncommissioned officer in charge. “The diseases we are trying to protect against could cause gastrointestinal disorders, amputation, paralysis of limbs, permanent brain damage or even death.”
Diphtheria, a disease that attacks the respiratory system and can potentially cause damage to other organs, is an example of the success of vaccines. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1921, before there was a vaccine for the disease, more than 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria. Since 2004, only one case has been reported.
“If you have an immunization that even has a chance of preventing a disease, I would recommend that you get that,” said Tech. Sgt. Jack Bean, 20th Aerospace Medicine Squadron community health NCOIC. “It will lower the likelihood of you or your family getting sick and lower the volume of people in waiting areas who are sick, almost like herd immunity.”
Herd immunity is a form of protection that occurs when a large portion of a population becomes immune to an infectious disease, making person-to-person spread highly unlikely. When healthy members of a population are vaccinated against a disease, infants and people with weakened immune systems who cannot receive vaccines less likely to contract the disease.
While vaccinations benefit a large group of people, it is important to stay up-to-date with vaccinations.
“The problem we run into is, we can eradicate something and then the public gets complacent,” said Sangston. “The reason these things seem to disappear is because people have that protection, but the disease is still out there.”
Many vaccinations are mandatory for Defense Department employees. Active duty service members can check if they’re due for immunizations via MyIMR.
Hand washing and covering coughs can help prevent the spread of disease, but vaccines go one step further by helping to fight disease from the inside out. Team Shaw members and their families can help raise the immunity of the community by staying up to date on immunizations.