Global Health Student Discovers the Value of Vaccines
Aug 05, 2015

IMG_1674This guest post was written by Michela, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is majoring in global studies with a concentration in global health and a minor in women’s and gender studies.  Michela plans to study abroad in Copenhagen in the spring of 2016 and has spent the summer interning with Every Child By Two. 

As a UNC Chapel Hill student studying global health, conversations about vaccines and the anti-vaccine movement have caught my attention.  My parents vaccinated me as a child according to what my doctor recommended, so for me it was never a question of whether or not they were safe because I trusted my parents’ and my doctor’s judgment. To attend a North Carolina university I was required to be immunized for polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, but I have also received other recommended vaccines to include meningitis and HPV.

At college, I’ve been taught to educate myself on all sides of an issue in order to fully understand the complexities. So now that I’m responsible for my own health, I’ve decided to conduct further research into the safety and efficacy of vaccines. I’ve found that this tactic is very helpful in evaluating both the risks and the benefits that are associated with vaccines.

What I’ve discovered still stuns me.  The scientific research and statistics prove that vaccinations are beneficial and effective, yet people still willingly endanger their own lives and the lives of others because they believe vaccinations cause more problems than they solve.

As a student of global health, I believe we have a responsibility to prevent diseases, not only for ourselves, but also to ensure the health of the people around us. The health and wellbeing of every individual is extremely important and vaccines help ensure that people don’t suffer, or die, from preventable diseases.  While I’m privileged to live in a country that has few outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases, it’s also frustrating to know that diseases like polio still exist, and that measles took the lives of 145,000 people last year alone.

Later this month, my best friend will leave the country to spend the fall semester studying in Ecuador. This is an incredible opportunity for her, but her travels will increase the chances that she will be exposed to diseases that she is not as susceptible to here in the States. That is why the University is requiring her to receive vaccines for yellow fever, malaria, typhoid, and rabies. By receiving these immunizations she’ll not only help ensure she doesn’t fall ill and miss out on her own exciting adventures, but she will be helping to prevent the spread of life-threatening diseases to others.  She will be protecting the people in Ecuador that she will be living among for a semester and the people in the States that she will have contact with when she returns.

These immunization requirements are an important reminder to young adults everywhere that we must take responsibility for our health and wellbeing.  In fact, our health is just as important as the adventures and learning opportunities that we gain from college and traveling abroad.  As I prepare to spend the spring semester in Europe, I know that I’ll need to receive vaccines that I have likely never had before.  Without taking these important health precautions, I put myself at great risk and yet I also recognize that there are risks to getting vaccinated.  But, in weighing them against the dangers of the diseases they prevent, I am comfortable in my decision to vaccinate.

As a student, I know there is still so much to learn and so I will continue to research global health topics like immunizations. I also understand the limits of my knowledge at this point in time, and so I’m happy to know that there are many scientific experts, who have devoted their lives to the study of vaccines, that I can learn from and rely on for accurate information.

While questioning the safety and efficacy of vaccines is normal and understandable, wanting to do what is best for our health and wellness is also normal. As a global health student, I consider it my responsibility to understand how vaccines are made, how they work with the body’s immune system to help prevent disease, and how immunization programs are helping to improve the health of entire communities and countries.NIAM15 Logo

I’ve concluded that vaccines are the best way to protect myself as I travel the world and expand my education.  But I also see the value of vaccines in helping to improve the health of our global society.  Why put our lives, our friends’ and family’s lives, and every other person’s life at risk when there is scientifically proven, effective immunizations to prevent certain diseases?

In honor of National Immunization Awareness Month (#NIAM15), I hope to encourage other young adults to take a look at the research for themselves and appreciate the fact that vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent diseases across the globe.

To find out what vaccines are appropriate for you, take this interactive quiz by clicking here, and talk to your doctor about the vaccines that are recommended.

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