Vaccines present a dead or weak version of a disease to the body’s immune system by way of injection, by mouth, or inhalation. The vaccine spurs the immune system into action, giving it the information it needs to combat the full version of the disease once it’s encountered. For example, the polio vaccine protected enough people in the United States that there hasn’t been an episode of polio in the country since 1979. In the post-World War II period, polio crippled about 35,000 Americans every year.
Other common vaccines given in the United States guard against:
Vaccines are one of the biggest successes in public health history. Smallpox is gone and polio nearly gone, and the incidences of diseases such as whooping cough, measles, and diphtheria have never been lower. Vaccines are subject to testing that’s much more thorough than other medications. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 began tightening the rules around the manufacture, distribution, and administering of vaccines.
Thimerosal, a compound that contains mercury, is a preservative sometimes used to prevent fungus and bacteria growth in the vaccine manufacture and storage stages. In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration recommended that, as a precaution, thimerosal should be replaced to help reduce mercury exposure. There are no recommended childhood vaccines containing thimerosal, except for some flu vaccines packaged in multi-dose vials. There was never any indication that thimerosal posed a threat. The FDA move was precautionary.
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