By Teah Mogae

    ‘I do not need vaccines, I just eat healthy! Besides, I hear that vaccines lower your immune system, and I would rather wing it and see how I go,’ Dave said confidently during our consultation. He was a 62-year-old man with a five-year history of diabetes and had recently been admitted to hospital for management of RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus), a viral infection he had caught off his young grandson. I was intrigued by his reasoning and thought I would explore further.

    ‘Help me understand how being vaccinated lowers your immunity,’ I probed, anticipating a haematology lecture from him. ‘Well, I really cannot explain that to you because I saw it on a video on YouTube, but I am sure you can figure it out,’ he responded sheepishly. 

    ‘So, someone on the internet, without any credentials that you know, has made a video about the immune system and vaccinations and you wholeheartedly believe them rather than the medical profession with evidence to indicate their benefit?’ I asked incredulously. 

    To help him understand, I explained in detail that the immune system is a powerful army that works to keep him safe. It is constantly on alert, picking up new intruders and developing new ammunition specifically for them. 

    A vaccine works as a replica intruder that triggers the immune system to develop specific ammunition for the ‘real’ intruder. The immune system is then ready to identify and conquer the virus quickly. 

    Yes, sometimes when people get vaccinated, they might get a bit fluey or sniffly but that is because our vaccines can fool the immune system to think it was attacked by the real deal, hence the response but that is no reason to avoid vaccination. 

    Healthy eating can help nourish the immune system’s army of defence but vaccines equip it with sophisticated weaponry as well. 

    There was a pregnant pause as he digested information that challenged his long-held beliefs. 

    ‘The Australian army is always training, recruiting, doing war games in preparation for potential war. I need to equip my army with the best tools of defence to protect me from influenza, especially given how my snotty-nosed grandson is always sick.’ 

    He rolled up his sleeve, got his flu vaccine and walked out of the clinic happy in his understanding of the benefit of annual flu vaccination. I was glad to have helped reduce his risk of ending up in hospital again. All in a day’s work as a general practitioner. 

    Dr Teah Mogae is a General Practitioner living in Hoppers Crossing. In the interest of protecting patient confidentiality, patient stories are often composites and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons is entirely coincidental.

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