Higgins and Bernard: Boost your immune system with age-old hack: vacccines

There are a dizzying number of tips, hacks and recommendations on how to stay healthy, from dietary supplements to what color of clothes promotes optimal wellness. Some are based on good evidence, thus helpful, while others are not.

However, one of the easiest, surest and safest ways to stay healthy is rarely mentioned: vaccination.

We are an immunologist and preventive medicine physician who want people to live the healthiest lives possible.

Among the many research-backed ways to live healthier, we encourage people to eat well, exercise regularly, get good sleep and care for their mental health. But when it comes to your immune system, nothing can replace the essential role vaccines play in promoting whole health. The protection vaccines provide is an irreplaceable part of a healthy lifestyle.

Some healthy people think they don’t need vaccines. But your immune system needs more than just diet and exercise when vaccine-preventable diseases come knocking on the door.

Imagine the cells of your immune system as athletes preparing for the Olympics. Just as athletes undergo rigorous and specialized training to meet every possible challenge, immune cells need to be primed and ready to fight off every pathogenic challenge you might encounter.

Vaccines expose your immune cells to inactivated versions of a pathogen, providing them with practice sessions to recognize and combat the real threat with speed and precision.

Vaccines ensure your immune cells are at their peak performance when faced with the actual infection. Just as well-trained athletes can tackle their competition with skill and confidence, vaccinated immune cells can swiftly and effectively protect your body from diseases.

If an unvaccinated person is exposed to a disease not encountered before, immune cells are unprepared. They must play catch-up to fight the pathogen, and this leaves your body vulnerable.

Without vaccination, even young, healthy people are susceptible to diseases like the flu. Even people at the pinnacle of health can unnecessarily suffer as a result.

Take the story of Austin Booth, a healthy, athletic 17-year-old who had not been vaccinated against influenza. Just days after he started to feel ill, he died of the disease.

For healthy people, vaccination can reduce the risk of death from influenza by two-thirds.

When people choose to skip vaccines recommended as an essential part of their overall health, there is a greater chance of serious complications, even death, from a vaccine-preventable disease. These people are playing a potentially life-altering and deadly game of chance.

Vaccine-preventable diseases are still common.

In the U.S., hundreds of thousands of adults are hospitalized every year, and thousands die, from vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19. And tens of thousands of adults develop cancer every year from vaccine-preventable diseases such as HPV.

Many of the trendiest health hacks have little to no evidence of effectiveness. Some are even dangerous. But vaccines are one of the most tested and proven ways to stay healthy.

Vaccines have been used for centuries.

In the past 50 years, they have saved an estimated 154 million lives worldwide. Mathematical models estimate that a 25-year-old now has a 35% greater chance of living to the next birthday, thanks to vaccines alone.

Not only are vaccines effective, but they are also safe.

Yes, vaccines can come with mild and limited side effects. Who hasn’t felt a little sluggish or bumped a sore arm after getting vaccinated? But severe side effects are extremely rare.

As opposed to dietary supplements, trendy health hacks and even many over-the-counter medications, there are robust systems in place to test and monitor the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. If you harbor concerns, talk to your doctor.

Of all the tips available to improve your health, one stands out: Even fit and healthy people need recommended vaccines.

From The Conversation, an online repository of lay versions of academic research findings found at https://theconversation.com/us. Used with permission.


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