Key Vaccination Effect: It greatly reduces the need for antibiotics

We know that vaccines are “incredibly effective” against illness (chart below). Yes, sometimes there are minor short-lived side effects such as swelling at the infection site, but serious side effects are “extremely rare.”

But for those unwilling to vaccinate because of those side-effects, there’s something else to consider that we’ve only recently acknowledged: vaccines reduce the chances that a child will need to be treated with antibiotics. And according to this groundbreaking paper by Alice Callahan about how vaccines reduce our dependence on antibiotics, this matters for three reasons.

Side effects from antibiotics, including diarrhea, rashes and allergic reactions, are generally more common and severe than those from vaccination. “I see far more harm from antibiotics than I do from vaccines, by a huge margin. It’s not subtle,” says one expert.

Second, antibiotics indiscriminately kill bacteria needed for good health, and without them our microbiome  becomes out of balance. Such “dysbiosis” is associated with a number of illnesses including inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes (types 1 and 2), allergies, asthma, autism, and cancer.

And with the good guys out of the way, bacteria that proved resistant to the drugs – the ones that survived – grow and thrive. That makes for more antibiotic-resistant infections, which are harder to treat or which can’t be treated at all.

Take measles as an example. You chose not to vaccinate your child so he or she gets sick. Since measles is bacterial-driven, your child has to take an antibiotic notwithstanding the risks of side effects, upsetting the gut microbiome, and giving rise to drug-resistant bacteria. Further, a measles infection weakens a child’s immune system for up to three years, thus risking further infection and the need for yet more antibiotic treatment.

Perhaps the best example, though, is this vivid illustration of how the pneumococcal vaccine has reduced our dependence on antibiotics. Pneumococcus bacteria can cause pneumonia and invasive blood and brain infections, but it’s also a major cause of ear infections, which are one of the biggest reasons that children are prescribed antibiotics.

 

Pn vax2

 

Ideally, says Alice Callahan, we want to protect our kids from deadly bacteria without disturbing the good ones or worsening the trend of antibiotic resistance. And this is exactly what vaccines do. But when parents choose not to vaccinate their kids, they’re increasing the kids’ chances of not only becoming seriously ill, but also of needing antibiotic treatment and other medical interventions down the road.

In other words, vaccines are a tool for decreasing medical interventions.

 

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