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Vaccines Q&A with Dr. Ahmed

Vaccines have caused quite a stir in recent years. For those who want to make informed decisions, it can be difficult to weed through all of the information that is available and decipher what is accurate and what is not. We thought it best to take a moment to sit down with one of Oaklawn’s primary care physicians, Dr. Ahmed, to get his perspective on vaccinations.

Why are immunizations important?
I think there’s a lot of fear with vaccines, primarily due to a lack of communication. Some of this is probably on our part as providers because we’re not always able to discuss this topic with our patients as thoroughly as we would like. But for me, the biggest reason I advise my patients to get vaccinated is because vaccines allow us to prevent some really serious diseases.

There is a lot of debate over whether or not to immunize. In your opinion, what are some of the biggest reasons why someone should consider getting vaccinated?
First of all, vaccines provide protection against diseases that are preventable. But also, there’s a social aspect to this and what I mean by that is, in recent years, we’ve seen how this topic divides people. Whether or not you choose to vaccinate has a lot to do with access to information, level of understanding and being able to separate true facts from false information.

What are the some of the biggest myths about vaccines that you would like to dispel?
First would be the safety and the correlation to other conditions. We have to be very careful when studies come out and look at factors like who is financing that study, where the study is coming out of, and what the data points and co-contributing factors are.

I encourage my patients to bring in articles that they’re reading so that we can have a discussion about it. It’s so important to talk about these things with your provider. I tell patients that I’ve never met anyone who has offered me money to administer vaccines. If you’re questioning the safety of vaccines, ask your provider about their own kids and if they would give this to their own children. If your provider says yes, then that’s the biggest display of support and there’s nothing underlying there.

Which vaccines are the most crucial?
I feel that all of them are important, but in my practice I stress that the pediatric schedule is followed. Certain ones, like the HPV vaccine and others administered in adulthood are more of an open discussion.

As a primary care physician, what are your thoughts on following an alternative vaccine schedule?
I think an alternative vaccine schedule can be a very useful tool because it’s a way to meet in the middle by allowing parents to have a say and feel that we’re making a shared decision. There’s a lot of fear around vaccines, so alternative schedules help put parents in a comfort zone because it allows us to space them out more. There is obviously evidence that supports the standard series of vaccines and that schedule was developed for a reason, but ultimately I feel that alternative schedules can help.

What are the possible consequences of not getting vaccinated, from both an individual perspective and from a larger societal perspective?
From a patient standpoint, it leaves the patient unprotected from preventative illnesses. From a community standpoint, it opens the door for these diseases to come back and you’re potentially putting others at risk, like kids with immunodeficiency disorders.

What are some of the diseases that vaccines have helped to eradicate?
One of the biggest ones is smallpox. We have 100% prevention there. Polio is at 80% and measles is at 60%.

Are there currently any negative effects we’re starting to see from more people opting out of vaccines?
Unfortunately, we’re seeing more cases of measles and mumps. In rare situations, people are still dying from these diseases.

A lot of vaccine discussions center around kids, but what about for adults? What do we need to do to stay current with our vaccines and are there any in particular that adults need to make sure they’re up to date on?
One that I stress for adults is the tetanus shot every 10 years. Tetanus can be fatal and it’s something you’re easily exposed to. Pneumonia is also really important for people with chronic illnesses. Pneumonia alone doesn’t necessarily kill people, but if you have another condition and then you get pneumonia on top of that, that’s when it can be fatal. Getting your annual influenza shot is also important. This year, unfortunately, we had a lot of people die from the flu.

What are some of the most common side effects someone can expect to experience after getting vaccinated?
Some of the most common side effects include a localized site reaction and a fever.

Can you explain the difference between live virus vaccines and non-live virus vaccines?
Live viruses are derived from wild or disease-producing bacteria or viruses. Their severity is reduced in labs, but they come from a live bacteria or virus. The non-live viruses are made from a protein or a small piece of that bacteria or virus. MMR and Varicella are two examples of live viruses.

Why has the number of vaccines administered tripled over the past 30+ years?
Honestly, it’s because of the medical knowledge we have now. Our resources, such as our laboratories, and the number of people going into these fields is growing so we’re learning more about how to prevent these diseases. There’s been a big shift towards preventing diseases rather than treating them when they occur, which has played a big role in getting us to where we’re at now. Our goal is to prevent these things from happening in the first place by relying on the recommended vaccine schedule rather than being reactive and tackling it after someone has contracted the disease.

Thank you, Dr. Ahmed, for sharing your insights with us. As always, we recommend that you have open discussions with your primary care physician about vaccines, the articles you’re reading/information you’re curious about, and any questions or concerns you might have about this topic.