Most vaccines are designed to provide immunity from one specific disease or a group of diseases. In reality, vaccines often do much more. And yet, it’s hard to change perception; often, additional benefits and needs for a specific vaccine are found as more research is conducted. Recent studies relating to measles, HPV and the TdaP vaccines demonstrate how healthcare professionals must stay educated on current vaccine benefits and recommended timing to help their patients make informed decisions.
Since it’s introduction, the measles vaccine has been extremely effective at reducing the occurrence of outbreaks. But, in addition to preventing measles, recent research has shown that the MMR vaccine also helps our bodies’ immune systems fight off other illnesses.
If a person contracts measles, the infection destroys cells causing the immune system to forget how to fight off past infections—often referred to as “immune amnesia.” As a result, those infected have a weakened immune system leaving them predisposed to a host of other serious infections. This period of greater susceptibility was thought to last only a month or two, but researchers have confirmed it could last up to three years.
By receiving the measles vaccination as a child, parents are both preventing their child from measles, and also protecting them from many other infections.
The first HPV vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2006 and recommended only for girls. The introduction of this vaccine resulted in a 56% reduction of HPV infections among teen girls in the U.S., subsequently protecting against future cases of cervical and vaginal cancer. While the vaccine clearly proved to be beneficial for girls, many parents are unaware that the vaccine is now seen as beneficial for boys as well. In fact, the CDC recommends all boys and girls, typically starting at ages 11 and 12, receive the three-dose series of the vaccine.
When vaccinated for HPV, boys decrease their likelihood to spread HPV to current and future sexual partners; they also gain protection against numerous cancers. In March, Gardasil 9 was launched offering an enhanced version of the vaccine offering improved protection against genital warts, as well as anal, penile, and throat cancer.
The enhanced vaccine comes at an opportune time. A recent study declared that HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer, a type of throat cancer, will become the most common HPV-related cancer in the U.S. by 2020. This cancer is four times more likely to result in infection of men than women. The study concluded that vaccinating boys for HPV was the most cost-efficient method of preventing throat cancer.
TdaP Pertussis Vaccine
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a serious health issue that can affect a person of any age, but it is particularly dangerous for infants. Yet, infants cannot receive the first dose until they are two months old, thus, leaving those most vulnerable unprotected.
A recent study highlights two important ways to stop the spread of whooping cough among unvaccinated infants. The first is to make sure all pregnant women receive the TdaP vaccine in their third trimester. Women who receive the vaccine while pregnant can pass on some of their immunity before the birth. Secondly, the study suggested all family members and anyone that will have close contact to the baby receive the vaccine. The TdaP vaccine for adults has been found to be less effective and only providing immunity for around two years. If more people around the infant are immune, the better the chance for the infant will be protected.
Recommended vaccination schedules and the associated benefits of vaccines continue to evolve as medicine advances. Physicians can help patients navigate their vaccinations to make sure both they and their loved ones are protected.