What Are the Benefits and Risks Of Immunization?

immunizationStory at a Glance

The topic of immunization is one that confuses many people. It is fraught with myth mixed with fact. After reading this article, you’ll learn about:

  • The benefits and risks of immunization.
  • The social responsibility of immunization.
  • Natural immunity.

Specific information about measles vaccinations can be found here.

You’ll also be provided with easy-to-read immunization schedules, including one designed for adults with specific health concerns.

The other day I was talking with a colleague, and she asked, “What’s your take on immunizations? My niece just had her first baby and is worried. Maybe it’s because she’s a first-time mom and worried about everything. Should she be concerned, though?”

There is a lot of debate surrounding the issue of immunization. If you are a regular visitor to the site, you know I am very scientifically minded. Thus, more often than not, I am pro-vaccination.

Having said that, I am aware there are rare, individual instances where vaccinations can cause, or have caused harm to an immuno-compromised baby. So when I’m asked by nervous individuals about immunization, I tell them all the same thing. It depends. Some people are disappointed in my response because, like many things in our world, it falls into a murky area. The personal decision to receive an immunization has to be what you consider best for yourself, or your child. Gather as much information as possible, weigh the known benefits versus the risks, then make a choice.

When viewing immunization in a global capacity, it may boil down to what is best for the population instead for the small number of individuals that may be compromised or even die. However, I also think biomedical companies go overboard by developing inoculations against almost anything in the book. When that happens, the benefits versus the risks of immunization become a lot less clear. For example, every Fall there is a mass push for everyone to get a flu shot. For some people it’s recommended. For others there isn’t a clearcut benefit, so getting one doesn’t make sense.

What’s important is using your common sense. While information is traded freely on the information highway, you must weigh what you learn and make informed, intentional choices rather than follow blindly the forms of persuasion so prevalent on the Internet.

Today’s article is an overview of immunization. In the end, we’ll provide a simple chart of the most common vaccinations recommended for all ages and the timetable in which the medical community suggests they be given.

Immunizations save lives

The single, most significant benefit of vaccinations is that they prevent disease. In one year, vaccines prevented between 2 and 3 million deaths worldwide.

As shown in this table, immunizations decrease the rate, and impact of diseases


Number of 20th Century Annual Cases

2006 Cases

Percent Decrease

Measles 503,282 55 99.9%
Diphtheria 175,885 0 100%
Mumps 152,209 6,584 95.7%
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) 147,271 15,632 89.4%
Smallpox 48,164 0 100%
Rubella 47,745 11 99.9%
Haemophilus influenzae type b, invasive (HiB) 20,000 29 99.9%
Polio 16,316 0 100%
Tetanus 1,314 41 96.9%

Source: The Impact of Vaccines in the United States

It’s tempting to think that improved hygiene and sanitation are the reasons for the dramatic decreases. However, the primary reason for the drop in numbers is due to immunization. But we can’t escape the fact that while significant reductions do exist, the diseases themselves have not been eliminated, especially in less-developed counties.

As we have seen in the U.S. and in other countries, vaccine-preventable diseases, such as polio, can and will return if we stop our immunization practices. An outbreak of a deadly disease can happen if just one infected traveler returns from a country where the disease hasn’t been eliminated.

Immunization protects the community

Although immunization is perceived as a personal choice, your decisions also impact your community. A vaccination protocol can move from a personal choice to one of social responsibility. A vaccinated community helps to protect those who are not vaccinated. This is known as “herd immunity” or “community immunity,” which means when people are vaccinated, they prevent disease from being spread to others who are not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, examples of unvaccinated individuals include:

  • Babies too young to receive vaccines.
  • The elderly.
  • Individuals allergic to vaccine components.
  • Individuals with weakened immune systems.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Unvaccinated children and adults.

In any community, if less than 90% of children are immunized, infectious diseases can take hold and spread. Fortunately, in the U.S. 97% of all the children have been vaccinated according to the recommended schedule provided at the end of this article.

The remaining 3% tend to live in the same region, which may diminish any benefit that could be derived from community immunity for the people living there.

You may wonder if there are thresholds of community immunity against specific diseases. There are. The following chart, from Immunize for Good, will give you an idea.

Disease Threshold of Vaccinated People Required for Community Immunity to be Effective
Diphtheria 85%
Measles 83-94%
Pertussis 92-94%
Polio 80-86%
Smallpox 83-85%

Immunization is cost effective

The most crucial thing vaccines do is save lives. But according to Berkeley Wellness, published by the University of California, they also save money. It is always less expensive to prevent a disease than to treat it. In a single birth cohort, $13.6 billion are saved in the direct costs associated with a routine childhood immunization program. To put that number into individual savings, for every dollar we spend on childhood immunizations, we save $18.40.

When individuals elect to forego vaccines, significant costs are associated with treatment, and sometimes loss of life and permanent birth defects. The following are some examples.

  • Chickenpox – Approximately one out of 1,000 children will develop severe pneumonia or encephalitis.
  • Measles – If contracted during pregnancy, this disease can can cause severe birth defects such as deafness, heart defects, and developmental disorders.
  • Meningococcal meningitis – Anywhere from 5-10% of the individuals who develop this disease will die, even if they receive appropriate treatment. Further distressing statistics indicate of those who survive, 11-19% will lose a limb or suffer other life-alternating disorders such as deafness, seizures or strokes.

Immunizations are safe

In January 2013, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published the most comprehensive examination of an immunization schedule to date. The same report uncovered no evidence of major safety concerns associated with adherence to the CDC-recommended childhood immunization schedule.

Here’s what the Institute of Medicine (IOM) says about vaccination safety:

  • “The current recommended U.S. childhood immunization schedule is timed to protect children from 14 pathogens by inoculating them at the time in their lives when they are most vulnerable to disease.”
  • “Before the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends adding a new vaccine to the immunization schedule, it reviews comprehensive data about that vaccine’s safety and efficacy in clinical trials, injuries and deaths caused by the disease the vaccine is designed to combat, and the feasibility of adding the new vaccine into the existing schedule, among other factors.”
  • “Delaying or declining vaccination has led to outbreaks of such vaccine-preventable diseases as measles and whooping cough that may jeopardize public health, particularly for people who are under-immunized or who were never immunized.”
  • “States with policies that make it easy to exempt children from immunization were associated with a 90 percent higher incidence of whooping cough in 2011.”
  • “…the IOM committee finds no evidence that the schedule is unsafe. The committee’s review did not reveal any evidence base suggesting that the U.S. childhood immunization schedule is linked to autoimmune diseases, asthma, hypersensitivity, seizures, child developmental disorders, learning or developmental disorders, or attention deficit or disruptive disorders.”

Read the full report here.

Natural immunity

Immunity can be achieved both naturally and through vaccines. And both result in protection.

In considering both options, it can be said that natural immunity typically lasts longer. It can also be said that vaccine-induced immunity provides better benefits with lower risks. However, keep in mind that some vaccines, such as those for tetanus, certain cases of flu and pneumonia produce longer-lasting protection, which can be very advantageous.

Another point to consider when wrestling with natural immunity versus injection-based immunization is the breadth of coverage. While enduring and recovering from an infection of any sort, you will only be immune to future infection of a single strain. However, vaccines can often protect against multiple strains of a disease, such as polio and pneumonia, both of which have multiple strains.

Additionally, not all infections offer protection over the course of your life; even for a single strain (i.e., whooping cough). So, when thinking about your options, consider longevity and other variables.

Research suggests that the risks of immunization are lower than the risks for natural infection for every recommended vaccine. Take, for example, pertussis, or whooping cough. It can be very severe for unvaccinated children under the age of 1. It requires hospitalization and even with diligent care, 1 in 200 will die. Six out of every 100 unvaccinated children who contract measles will also suffer from pneumonia. In that scenario, 2 children out of every 1000 will die.

Parents who choose not to vaccinate often do so to avoid risk, but given the data, choosing not to vaccinate may be a riskier choice.

Risks of immunization

It would be remiss not to point out some of the possible risks of immunization. Although by comparison they are small, they do exist and must be taken into consideration when confronted with getting a vaccine.

Potential side effects

Side effects vary for each vaccine with each presenting its own risks. Some common side effects of most vaccines are:

  • Allergic reactions requiring immediate medical attention (most serious)
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Pain, redness, and swelling at the site of injection
  • Tiredness

Most side effects subside after a short period of time. If not, contact your primary care physician. If you experience an allergic reaction, call your doctor immediately.

The list above is not comprehensive. When reviewing the benefits and risks of any immunization, consult your health care professional for specific effects. If you choose to get a vaccine, contact your primary medical caretaker if you experience anything out of the ordinary after receiving it.

Immunization Schedules

The following immunization schedules are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For ease of use, they are split into different age ranges.

Children, Birth Through 6

Pre-teens and Teens, 7-18 Years

Adults, by Health Condition

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    Comments : 1 thought on “What Are the Benefits and Risks Of Immunization?”

    1. Thank you for explaining that immunizations are safe. My brother wants to immigrate to the United States but he heard that he had to get a medical exam done first. I told him I’d look into it, so I’ll let him know that immunizations are safe for him to get.

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