Vaccines: The Buzzword for 2020 (2021)

If you received a penny for every time you heard or said the word “vaccine” in the year 2020, you would have...a lot of pennies! What exactly is a vaccine? It is a weakened or dead form of a disease that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce antibodies to fight against that particular disease. Is this the same as an immunization? No. Immunization is the response the body has to a vaccine, prompting the immune system to recognize and develop antibodies to fight against the disease, hence protecting the body from said disease.

In an article for the journal Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, Dr. Stefan Riedel mentioned that in the United States, research and usage of vaccines started in the late 18th century. It was Edward Jenner’s research and development of the smallpox vaccine in 1798 that laid the groundwork for the use of a live, weakened virus to produce a vaccine.

The ingredients in vaccines are designed to produce immunity in a person and to maintain its effectiveness at the desired shelf-life. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), vaccines contain the following ingredients:

- Preservatives: Their function is to maintain the vaccine and prevent contamination.

- Adjuvants: These substances enhance and maximize the immune response.

- Stabilizers: They ensure the effectiveness of the vaccine.

- Residual cell culture materials: Their purpose is to produce adequate amounts of the virus/bacteria to manufacture the vaccine.

- Residual inactivating ingredients: Their purpose is to kill and/or inactivate the virus to make the vaccine safe.

- Residual antibiotics: These ingredients prevent bacteria from getting in and contaminating the vaccine production process.

The scientific community considers various factors when manufacturing vaccines, such as the most effective technology to create the vaccine, the predicted immune response, and the demographic of the individuals that need the vaccines. Vaccines are characterized into four different categories:

Type: Description: Protects against:
Live attenuated vaccines Use a weakened version of the virus/microorganism Chickenpox, smallpox, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), rotavirus
Inactivated vaccines Use the dead version of the virus/microorganism Flu, hepatitis A, polio, rabies
Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines Use specific parts of the virus/microorganism Meningitis, whooping cough, hepatitis B, pneumonia, shingles
Toxoid vaccines Use a toxin produced by the virus/microorganism Tetanus, diphtheria

Vaccines can be administered through several routes. The CDC gives five ways a vaccine can be transported into the body:

- The oral route is through the mouth.

- The subcutaneous route is via an injection into the fatty tissue just below the skin.

- The intradermal route is an injection into the skin’s layers.

- The intramuscular route is an injection into the muscle.

- The intranasal route is through the nose.

Vaccine schedules in the United States start at birth in the hospital with the hepatitis B vaccination administered to newborn babies. There are recommended vaccines for all ages, including catch-up vaccines, vaccines for high-risk children, and vaccines recommended based upon joint decisions involving the physician and the parent/guardian. The vaccine schedule for birth to age 18 contains a plethora of information that should be viewed in detail on the CDC's website.

As for adult vaccines, it depends upon each individual. The annual flu vaccine and the pneumonia vaccine are common among adults, though underlying health factors may alter the need or timing of getting vaccinated. Some of these factors include pregnancy, immunocompromised conditions, cardiac illness, renal disease, chronic liver disease, diabetes, and pulmonary disease. Health care workers may need additional vaccines depending upon the nature and risk factors of their job. Prior to getting any vaccines, individuals need to discuss their health history and current health conditions with their doctor.

Traveling internationally may also require vaccines, depending upon the region and time of year that you travel. Some countries will not issue visas until a traveler has received certain vaccines. For example, Hajj and Umrah visas require the meningitis vaccine and recommend vaccines for influenza and pneumonia. Vaccines that one should already have received—not necessarily at the time of obtaining the visa—include diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, and mumps.

There may be additional vaccination requirements depending upon your origin and destination countries. Cruise ships may have requirements depending upon where you are sailing; however, the CDC recommends having at least the measles/mumps/rubella, varicella (chickenpox), and flu vaccines before boarding a cruise ship. Even though most people are not going anywhere during the current global pandemic, it is always wise to find out the current health situation of your travel destination and the necessary vaccines before booking an international trip.

Booster shots: Why do we need them?

Booster shots are exactly what the term implies. They are the vaccines that need to be taken periodically to “boost” your immune system. A common example is the tetanus shot. The Mayo Clinic recommends that individuals get the vaccine against tetanus once every ten years. However, if you experience a wound such as a deep cut or puncture from a metal object, it is best to get another tetanus vaccine regardless of where you are on the vaccine schedule.

Who needs a booster shot? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), almost everyone needs booster shots. However, they say “almost everyone” because individuals with health issues such as seizures, certain allergic reactions, and immune system disorders should consult their doctors first.

Our current global pandemic

With COVID-19 updates taking over the news this year, you may have heard the term herd immunity. Dr. Abdur Rehman Khan, an infectious disease specialist in Wisconsin, describes the phenomenon of herd immunity as “when a large portion of the community (about at least 60-70%) has developed immunity by developing antibodies against [a] particular organism.” He notes that this not only prevents the previously sick individuals from getting re-infected but also from passing the disease along to uninfected individuals.

I know what you’re thinking. Can we finally be done with COVID-19 and stop washing our groceries with soap? Can herd immunity be used to combat this global plague? The answer is not that simple. Dr. Khan states, “For a community to achieve herd immunity, the expert[s] estimate that at least 70% of that population need[s] to be either infected or vaccinated. So far, no vaccine has been approved but multiple vaccine trials are underway.” He also notes that until we have an effective vaccine, the only way we can achieve herd immunity is by having a large portion of our population be infected with and fully recovered from the COVID-19 virus. At the time of publication of this article, approximately 2% of the U.S. population had been infected with the virus. This percentage is insufficient in order to develop herd immunity and stop this pandemic. Dr. Khan goes on to say that the downfall of herd immunity is that the human toll would be heavy on a country such as the United States because approximately 18% of the population is over sixty-five years old. Advanced age increases the risk of death instead of increasing the chance of survival with a developed immunity, meaning that reaching that 70% infection rate would be detrimental to the older population.

Are vaccines halal?

No article on vaccination is complete without the mention of anti-vaxxing. Anti-vaxxing, or anti-vaccination, is the refusal of individuals to get themselves or their children vaccinated. This has become a movement wherein groups of people do not believe in the need for vaccination or they believe vaccinations are more harmful than beneficial. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) mentions “religion” as one of the reasons some parents decide not to vaccinate their children. So what does Islam say about this? Are vaccines halal?

The halal factor of a vaccine is based upon the reason it is administered. According to Imam Radwan Mardini, one of the Islamic scholars of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, “The primary reason for vaccines is the prevention…of deadly diseases. It is stated in Sahih al-Bukhari that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said, ‘There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.’ Therefore vaccines can be used to protect against diseases.” A closer look at this hadith tells us that we have the solution; we just need to access it. This access can come from scientific knowledge and the use of facts and data to develop vaccines and treatments.

We have seen vaccines that have been successful in protecting us from diseases such as polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, yellow fever, and typhoid. We still have many other vaccines to develop, specifically the vaccine for COVID-19. This virus has caused much hardship around the world. However, because we are people of faith, we know that the ayah from the Quran says, “Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease” [Quran 94:6]. In this light, we testify to the belief that the hardship of illness will have the ease of cure. Ameen.

Husna T. Ghani has an MBA, an MSEd, and degrees in biology and chemistry. She has taught microbiology as well as several laboratory sciences and is currently a strategy consultant in the spheres of healthcare and communications. When she isn’t doing her day job, she focuses on dessert making and saving the world, one pastry at a time.

Reprinted from the Fall 2020 issue of Halal Consumer© magazine with permission from the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA®) and Halal Consumer© magazine.

  Category: Featured, Highlights, Nature & Science
  Topics: Coronavirus, Disease, Health, Pandemic, Vaccine
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