In this March 2021 file photo, a pharmacy technician loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site at the Portland Expo in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Bacteria are everywhere and in everyone. We cannot escape them, and we cannot live without them. Antibiotics are available for treatment of many bacterial infections that cause disease. Unfortunately, the bacteria do not want to go quietly into the night, and they constantly work on ways to avoid antibiotics and continue to cause illness. They share tactics with each other, and the number of bacteria that are no longer susceptible to antibiotics (resistant bacteria) is on the rise.

Many of the things we commonly do (wash hands, stay home when sick, take antibiotics as prescribed) help decrease the development and spread of resistant bacteria, but there is something else that is also helpful. We can prepare our bodies for possible infection and get ahead of infectious bacteria by vaccination.

The pneumococcal vaccine (to protect against streptococcus pneumoniae) and the whooping cough vaccine (to protect against Bordetella pertussis) are both safe and effective. Having a vaccine is like showing your body’s defenses a “wanted” poster of harmful bacteria.

More vaccines are in development to prevent other diseases. Educating our bodies on how to fight off harmful bacteria will reduce the amount of antibiotics needed to treat disease. Many of the ways that bacteria resist antibiotics are burdensome for the bacteria, so if they are in an environment without antibiotics, they tend to lose their ability to resist antibiotics. This will then make the antibiotics more effective when truly needed.

I encourage everyone to learn more about vaccines and their recommended uses, and get vaccinated against unwanted diseases. Vaccines can protect you against bacteria and viruses and will help to preserve our antibiotics for future use.

Dr. Allison Burden

Antimicrobial resistance specialist

Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention