{Guest Column} Vaccines: A gun cabinet for your immune system

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By Julie Drake
Special to the Herald Times
RBC I I was recently asked at a county emergency medical services council meeting why I was there. Having only been on the job for one month my answer was not eloquent, but I was able to tumble the words communicable disease and population health out of my mouth. In hindsight, I wish I would have simply said “because of the 1918 flu epidemic.”
Flu killed an estimated 700,000 people in the United States in 1918. It killed as many as 100,000,000 (one hundred million) world-wide. The flu virus circled the globe three times and with each communicable pass across the U.S. more and more died. By the second and third wave many of the doctors and nurses had died. We simply do not understand the magnitude, pain and panic of this kind of horrible. Mind you, this was way before world-wide travel, intercontinental flights and cross country transportation.
Could it happen again? Yes. Thus the reason for nation wide flu vaccination clinics, world-wide flu surveillance, and continuous scientific research on flu viruses. The flu is a nasty foe. It kills upwards of 12,000 people in the U.S. yearly (mostly vulnerable populations–young, elderly and people with other health conditions). There are various types of flu viruses; they mutate and also vary in prevalence. This keeps scientists busy trying to stay one step ahead of the virus when developing the yearly flu vaccine.
Vaccines work by creating a “gun cabinet” in your immune system to fight the virus. If you have not been vaccinated it may take days or weeks for your body to fight back at full strength. This is just too long for the high risk population and they often die. However, if you are immunized, the guns in your immune system “gun cabinet” recognize and annihilate the foe immediately, because they have seen it before and recognize it (from the vaccination). Each year flu vaccines are developed using world-wide surveillance of cases in other hemispheres. However, sometimes there are surprises, such as the H1N1 flu strain of a few years ago.
It is your local Rio Blanco County Public Health department and county Emergency Manager that write plans, prepare and know the process to get vaccines to the masses in an urgent and unforeseen situation. Emergency Medical Services include public health—prevention is what we aspire for, but in the event a communicable disease emergency happens public health is at the head of the spear.

Julie Drake

Julie Drake is the Rio Blanco County Director of Public Health.