How I Explain Vaccines to Patients

JANUARY 12, 2016
Pharmacists know that society benefits from vaccines. Polio and other debilitating diseases have been eliminated because of them.
 
However, we cannot force patients to receive vaccines or allow us to give them to their children. All we can do is explain how vaccines work and then encourage our patients to listen to their intuition and decide whether immunization is right for them and their children.
 
Here is how I explain vaccines to my patients.
 
Vaccines tell the body that there is a bad guy coming, and they show the body how to make the magic bullets to kill him if and when he shows up. After you receive the vaccine, your body will need to mount a response and make the magic bullets, which are known as antibodies.
 
If you are not healthy enough to form these antibodies, then you may need more than one booster shot.
 
Infectious disease experts have set forth guidelines on who should receive booster shots and the ideal time for the body to make the antibodies. Those in need of booster shots are usually patients aged older than 60 years, those who are physically weak and debilitated from disease, or patients on certain immunosuppressing drugs.
 
If you get the booster shot at the wrong time by accident, nothing bad will happen. Your body just might not be able to respond at that time.
 
The most common question I get from patients is why vaccines don’t work 100% of the time. The answer is that it can vary.
 
Perhaps the vaccine was not accurate in guessing what the bad guy looked like, or your body could not make the magic bullets. Sometimes, certain medications like prednisone, dexamethasone, methylprednisolone, methotrexate, and hydroxychloroquine stop your body from making the magic bullets.
 
Oftentimes, the pharmacist will still give you the vaccine even though you are on these medications because there is a chance it might help you. Doing nothing is not an option for some patients.
 
I often tell my patients that vaccines are like any other drugs. The older vaccines that have withstood the test of time have been given to massive amounts of individuals and are very predictable, while newer vaccines are like new drugs that are just entering the market. We never know everything about a new drug or vaccine until we have given it hundreds of thousands of patients for long periods of time.
 
When patients ask me how they can improve their health and avoid getting the flu or other contagious diseases, I respond that vaccines are the way to go, especially with the older vaccines like the hepatitis and polio immunizations. These vaccines will give the patient a statistical edge on staying healthy.

Gunda Siska, PharmD
Gunda Siska, PharmD
Gunda Siska, PharmD, has worked in various fields within the pharmaceutical industry as a licensed pharmacist for more than 20 years. She is currently a staff hospital pharmacist assisting nurses and doctors with drug prescribing, administration, and dispensing, as well as independently monitoring and dosing highly toxic and dangerous drugs. For 2 years, she was concurrently a consultant pharmacist for skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes. Dr. Siska is a member of the New Mexico Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @GundaSiska
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