Cooling down a hot topic...
In a recent conversation, the question arose about the interchangeability of two terms: vaccination and immunization. This is a common question that has two forms of an answer based in either social custom or medical science.
According to science, each term has its own, distinct definition which I will get to soon. But first...let’s explore why, according to social custom, there are two “competing answers.”
Political connotations around this subject are often generated by people who view themselves as being either “pro-” or “anti-” vaccine. You know, the people who honestly believe all vaccines are 100% harmless for all children (and adults), or those who fear that vaccines are integral to a government conspiracy and present a very real heath danger to everyone at all times. These people often wish to influence the decisions of others, because they believe they have found the “right” way.
Recently, I heard it expressed this way: “Using immunizations to refer to vaccines is perfectly fine; they are often used interchangeably, and to not do so is purely a political choice.”
Really? Since when did politics become synonymous with science? What’s going on here? Here’s how the “politicizing” of these terms happened:
Over the past sixty years, alarmed citizens with concerns about vaccines attempted to clarify the terms. From a political perspective, they observed that “immunizations” had a reassuring connotation that suggested a positive outcome...while “vaccines” were what we gave to our cats, dogs, and cows and carried an obvious medical procedure connotation. In the face of criticism by “anti-vaccine” advocates, the “pro-vaccine” advocates reacted defensively by insisting that these terms could be used interchangeably. There has actually been a concerted effort to “reclaim” or “hold onto” the use of the term “immunization” in place of the term “vaccination.”
So the “social use” answer is: YES! On a social level, these terms are often used interchangeably and which word you choose can carry a political charge.
However, from a scientific perspective, they are different. Since furthering the paradigm of conflict is NOT helpful to current and future conversations, I would like to refer you to the explanation offered by this mainstream, pro-vaccine website: http://www.healthwatchmd.com/2012/09/fast-fact-vaccination-vs-immunization/
Confusing “vaccinated” with “immunized” can lead to misplaced confidence and potentially deadly choices. We will talk more about this in a second article about the importance of understanding and using terms correctly, but for now I will say this: Germs do not check your vaccination records, they check your immunity status. And the two are not necessarily the same.
I propose that using scientific definitions allows us to side-step historical animosity. By so doing, we can increase the positivity, clarity, and productivity of community conversation.