Vaccines: One of the Greatest Medical Advances

by | Aug 27, 2020 | Primary Care, Uncategorized

By Hanna Chapman, FNP-BC, MSN and an interview with Peter Palese, MD


Vaccines are certainly top of mind right now. Many parents continue to research vaccines before deciding whether to vaccinate their children. The HPV vaccine is still relatively new and there are questions on when and why you should get it. Most recently, the hope for a COVID-19 vaccine soon has become the universal focus so we can return to some form of normalcy.

In honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, our provider, Hanna Chapman, FNP-BC, MSN, interviews vaccine expert, Dr. Peter Palese, a microbiologist and Professor and Chair of the Department of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Hear Dr. Palese discuss the history of vaccines, their importance, and the potential of a universal flu vaccine.


Before we dive in, some facts on vaccines:

Vaccines have led to the eradication of life-threatening or life-debilitating diseases. Smallpox, for example, was one of the most contagious and deadly diseases, claiming the life of 300 million people between the years of 1900-1920. It has since been eradicated because of a vaccine.

Additionally, other diseases such as rubella, polio, measles, mumps, chickenpox, and typhoid are nowhere near as common as they were a hundred years ago thanks to widespread vaccination programs. We are now facing an epidemic of HPV related malignancies in young people, specifically throat, penis, anus and cervical cancers that can hopefully also be curtailed by early vaccination with the newly developed HPV vaccine. 

As long as the vast majority of people are vaccinated, it is much more difficult for an outbreak of disease to occur, let alone spread. This effect is called herd immunity – a concept that has been discussed as a “tool” to combat COVID-19. “Natural” herd immunity, without the hope of a vaccine would require upwards of 60-70% infection with up to 2 million deaths conservatively estimated – without guarantee of success.1


  • Vaccines help prevent the development of antibiotic resistance by greatly reducing the incidence of pneumonia. 
  • Vaccine programs have also greatly reduced the prevalence of infections resistant to penicillin or other first-line antibiotics.
  • The measles vaccine alone is estimated to prevent 1 million deaths every year. These are staggering numbers.


Simply, vaccines are one of the greatest medical advances in the history of medicine. 



7 Questions with Vaccine Expert: Peter Palese, MD


Hanna: Thank you Dr. Palese for joining me today to provide some insight into vaccines and dive deeper into a few of the top questions we are fielding from our members. 


Can you start by providing a brief history on the effectiveness of vaccines?


The annual flu vaccine seems to be more effective some years than others. Can you speak to the effectiveness of the flu vaccine?


Will it be more important this year than in past years for people to get the flu vaccine? 


Do you think there is potential for a universal flu vaccine? 


There is some controversy or skepticism around vaccines. Are there dangerous side effects to vaccines?


Can you please give an overview on the HPV vaccine, who should be getting it and why?


Based on what we know today, can you discuss the work that is being done for a COVID-19 vaccine? Do countries traditionally work together to reach a vaccine? 


About Peter Palese, MD

Peter Palese is a microbiologist and Professor and Chair of the Department of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. His research is in the area of RNA-containing viruses with a special emphasis on influenza viruses. Specifically, he established the first genetic maps for influenza A, B, and C viruses, identified the function of several viral genes, and defined the mechanism of neuraminidase inhibitors (which are now FDA-approved antivirals). 

See his full bio on the Palese Laboratory at Mount Sinai website.


1Kwok KO, et al. Herd immunity — Estimating the level required to halt the COVID-19 epidemics in affected countries. Journal of Infection. 2020; doi:10.1016/j.jinf.2020.03.027.


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