There is a huge amount of misinformation floating around concerning vaccines and vaccinations. It's an extremely important topic, most especially for those in college or just starting a family. When I saw the question below, I felt compelled to answer. I've reproduced my answer here because I think it's important for members of the SPSU community.
Of course, I'm not a physician, but what I've written is common sense, not medical advice. If you have questions, I'll try to answer them in the comments. But really, if you have questions, ask your doctor, OK?
To my mind, the most important reason to have the recommended vaccinations is to protect others. Part of the social contract is that we don't give diseases to others. We wash our hands, cough into our sleeves, stay home when sick, etc. You, a healthy 20-something might come down with rubella and not even know it. It's a mild disease, passed along by coughs, sneezes, and even breathing. If you pass rubella along to woman early in pregnancy, it is quite likely to cause severe birth defects or even fetal death. If you want a scare, look up congenital rubella syndrome. Surely none of us would wish that on our friends' children.
First of all, being sick sucks! We should all avoid it.
Possibly more important, there are diseases for which vaccines are available that can literally kill you. Being killed by a disease would probably suck, too. I haven't tried it. But here's an example, if you didn't have chickenpox as a child, you should talk to your doctor. It's usually no big deal for kids but can be literally lethal for adults. Having chickenpox as a kid exercises your immune system at a time when your body is equipped to fight the disease. But that exercise protects against only the varicella pathogen, not against "being sick in general."
Exercising your immune system is exactly how vaccines work. Vaccines introduce pathogens for specific diseases into your body, but the pathogens have been killed, attenuated, or inactivated, so they don't make you sick. Your immune system learns to recognize those pathogens, so if you are exposed for real, the exercise provided by the vaccine has enabled your immune system to fight off the actual threat.
As you have found out, being sick "in general," doesn't keep you from getting sick again. "Every microbe and bacillus has a different way to kill us," and so there are vaccines to exercise your immune system for different diseases.
Vaccines aren't perfect. Some "wear off" in the sense that your immune system loses its sensitivity to the pathogen. That's why you need a tetanus booster every ten years or so. Flu vaccines are medical scientists' best guess about what strains of flu will be around months later. If they guess wrong, or you are exposed to a strain not in the vaccine, you may get the flu. There is no vaccine for the common cold because "colds" are caused by so many different viruses.
So, even though you understand that vaccines are not perfect, you owe it to yourself and to those around you to get the recommended vaccines.
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Originally published: 2013-04-12