The following article, submitted by Susan Tweed, PhD, RN, health educator at Optima Health, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on Sunday, July 11, 2010.

The first vaccination originated in 1796 when British scientist Edward Jenner exposed a young boy infected with cowpox to smallpox, after noting those with cowpox were immune to smallpox.

Vaccines have come a long way since then, and now billions of people worldwide have safely received protection from many different types of diseases.

A vaccine works by producing disease-fighting antibodies when a person is injected with a weakened or killed form of the disease. If the person is later exposed to the disease, the immune system remembers the disease and is able to produce antibodies to fight the illness. Many times, the person is not even aware of the exposure.

The American Academy of Pediatrics views immunizations as one of the most successful medical   advances of all time. The group believes that getting vaccinated against disease is the single most important and effective method of preventing illness.

However, many times when we think of vaccinations, our minds go to the standard immunizations infants and children receive. Preteens and young adults are also important to think of when it comes to immunizations.

Some vaccines to consider for  those age groups are Tdap, which prevents tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, and the meningococcal vaccine, which prevents meningitis. There is also a new HPV vaccine that protects girls against cervical cancer, and boys from penile and anal cancers. The vaccine also protects from the four main strands of HPV that cause genital warts.

Seniors also need protection from vaccine-preventable illnesses. They are often at risk because they may not have received immunizations in their younger years, or newer vaccines may not have been available when they were children.

Seniors may be at increased risk for serious illness or even death from common infections. Routinely recommended immunizations for older adults include the flu, pneumonia, chicken pox, tetanus and shingles vaccines.

Although various countries around the world participate in efforts to stop vaccine-preventable epidemics from some of the world’s deadliest diseases, not all countries follow the same immunization guidelines. Adoption of children and worldwide travel are two reasons vaccines are recommended for American children, even for diseases not typically seen in the United States.

Choosing to vaccinate your child or yourself is a personal decision. Concerns about the side effects of vaccines continue to be raised, though severe side effects are rare. If there are any side effects at all, they are usually mild, like discomfort or swelling at the injection site.

All vaccines are tested thoroughly by the Food and Drug Administration and reviewed by a wide range of nationally recognized medical organizations before they are officially recommended. Overall, vaccines are   considered safe and effective.

There has been some controversy about the association of the Measles Mumps Rubella vaccine and autism. Those debates are scientifically unfounded. The British journal, The Lancet, which originally published the autismvaccine connection has since retracted that assertion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to study vaccines and autistic disorders.

With everyone’s help, we can continue to prevent unnecessary disease. Project Immunize Virginia, or PIV, is a statewide immunization coalition that promotes timely immunizations across the lifespan through education and advocacy.

To join the effort, or for information on the Virginia program, visit