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Vaccines Help Reduce Sepsis Risk

January 14, 2020

Sepsis is surprisingly common. According to the most recent statistics available, every year about 1.7 million people in the United States are hospitalized with sepsis, the body’s toxic and life-threatening response to an infection. The only way to get sepsis is to have an infection, so the only way to prevent it is to prevent infections from occurring in the first place.

Infection prevention is serious business. Most hospitals and healthcare facilities have staff dedicated to preventing healthcare-acquired infections (HAICs). Healthcare providers also work in the community with infection prevention strategies, such as teaching children how to wash their hands properly and promoting other ways to prevent infection, including community vaccination programs. These campaigns can be powerful and effective, reaching people who may not have access to regular, preventative healthcare. Unfortunately, those who work to provide vaccines can be faced with resistance from people who don’t understand how vaccines work. This resistance may now be worse since rumors started circulating online that vaccines are a major source of sepsis. This is simply not true.

Vaccines, as we know them now, have been around since the smallpox vaccine was developed in 1796. Vaccines work to prevent infections by tricking your body into thinking it has been infected with the disease, giving you immunity should you come across it later on. However, historians have found that vaccines go much further back than the one we know. The Chinese used different versions of smallpox inoculations as early as the year 1000.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says vaccines now protect humans from more than 25 serious illnesses. More than 6 million children around the world died in 2018, mostly from preventable causes, including diseases that could have been avoided if the children had had access to vaccinations. The most common causes of death from preventable diseases include:

  • Measles
  • Polio
  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Whooping cough (pertussis)
  • Pneumonia
  • Diarrhea from rotavirus

Any infection, including those listed above, can cause sepsis. Even chicken pox, a disease that many consider to be a non-serious childhood illness, can cause sepsis. The viral infection itself can trigger sepsis, or an infection can occur as the result of a child scratching at the itchy plaques, breaking the skin. Bacteria can enter the open areas, causing an infection. According to the CDC, every year up to the early 1990s, up to 150 people in the U.S. died after contracting chicken pox. Since the introduction of the vaccine in 1995, deaths have steadily declined: “Each year, more than 3.5 million cases of varicella [chicken pox], 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented by varicella vaccination in the United States.”

Unfortunately, misinformation about vaccines still circulates. Some people claim that they became ill just after they received a vaccine, for example. This is a common misconception regarding the flu vaccine. But since the vaccines are made from weakened or dead germs of the target virus, this is not possible. Dead viruses cannot spread infection. And for the most part, weakened germs do not either, with the rare exception of people with seriously weakened immune system.

Admittedly, as effective as vaccines are, they can’t guarantee 100% immunity and some people do still get the diseases they are meant to prevent. In most cases, the illness is less severe and may not last as long than it would have been had they not been vaccinated. It’s also important to understand that no matter how effective a vaccine is, it does not begin working immediately. So, if you get the flu vaccine on Monday, but you become sick with the flu on Friday of the same week, it’s because you were exposed to the flu virus either just before you had your injection or shortly after. The vaccine was not able to work yet. It wasn’t the vaccine that caused it.

Vaccines are our best bet in avoiding many infections among adults and children. They directly prevent infections in those who have received the vaccine, and when enough people are vaccinated, they keep infections away from those who cannot be, such as the very young and those who have compromised immune systems, like someone undergoing. This is called herd immunity.

Sepsis Alliance encourages everyone to get all recommended vaccines. Speak with your doctor about which vaccinations you and your family may need, including boosters, which ensure that earlier vaccinations continue to cover you. We may not be able to prevent all infections, but vaccinations do make a big difference. They save lives.

Learn more about sepsis and infections diseases by visiting our Sepsis and… library.