HEALTH columnist Lucy Dunn stresses the importance of vaccines in this week's community column.

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Vaccines help your body to develop protection against an illness. There are many vaccines that are given in the UK, and children usually have their first at a few months old.

The most common types of vaccines are ‘live’ or ‘inactive’. In a live vaccine, a small part of the disease is injected, giving the immune system a taster of the full illness. Your immune system analyses these types of germs and builds an action plan in case it ever faces them again, resulting in long-standing protection against that particular disease. If you become ill, your body’s previous exposure prompts its pre-planned protective process to recover.

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Inactive vaccines see a ‘killed’ version of the disease injected, so that your body is able to recognise its qualities and learn how to react to live versions if you contract it. The protection isn’t as long-lasting, and ‘booster’ shots of the drug are usually given, e.g. tetanus and flu.

There has been increasing distrust of vaccines, partly due to Andrew Wakefield’s false conclusions that the MMR vaccine caused autism, and beliefs that the pro-vaccine movement is a money-making conspiracy to benefit ‘big pharma’. Worryingly, the BBC recently reported that there is a decrease in the amount of routine childhood vaccines which are being taken up.

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It may be a personal choice if you refuse vaccines for your child. But the outcomes can be terrible, even fatal, including the emergence of diseases that were almost completely wiped out (the first ever death from measles in 12 years was recorded in the US in 2015) and the impact on ‘herd immunity’ (if more people are vaccinated then there is a decreased risk of the unvaccinated or immunosuppressed contracting the disease), increasing the risk of disease for those born with a naturally weakened immune system or being treated for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or cancer. So it’s not only your child you’re protecting by getting vaccinated: it has an impact on everyone else around you too.