I’m kind of a little big deal: Public health ninjas

By Andria Caruthers, Smith/Patterson Fellow


What could ninjas and public health possibly have in common? Besides being pretty cool, both operate in similar ways. Ninjas battle the grimy and unsavory characters that threaten an unaware public. Their actions are mostly unseen and usually, you only notice them if something goes wrong. Equipped with the right tools and weapons, public health defends the public in the same way.

Vaccines have been one of the most powerful and effective weapons used to defend the public’s health. Heard of anyone suffering from scurvy lately? Polio? Probably not. Just a few decades ago diseases like polio and scurvy brought illness, death, and havoc on populations. They are so uncommon in America now, that those decades of disease have been essentially wiped from the public’s memory.

How do vaccines work, anyway?

how do vaccines work graphic

You can think of vaccines as effective, tiny con artists. The little tricksters are injected into the body as a weakened version of a specific germ (i.e. polio), but our body’s defense system is having none of it! Once in the body, the immune system responds by sending in the ninjas – the skilled attackers that are made to defeat this specific germ. If the actual, big bad germ ever enters the body, the immune system will remember its first battle with the con artists and send in the same ninjas to destroy the infection.

And just like that, you never even knew you were in danger. That’s why doctors, nurses and other public health leaders say it is so important to have kids vaccinated. Their little bodies have not had the chance to build up defenders to the countless germs they encounter. With vaccinated kids and adults, we can stop individual disease and the spread of some rather nasty, killer germs.

In public health, it’s often those little things you can’t see that make the big difference: the handy tools and weapons public health professionals rely on to protect us from unseen threats and the unsung achievements made on the public’s behalf. Once you think about it, drawing comparisons between public health and ninjas isn’t far-fetched at all. It simply comes down to ending threats and having the skill to respond, something public health (and ninjas) have been doing for centuries.

Stay tuned for more insight on vaccines next week…

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