Monday, February 9, 2015

Vaccinate Your Children

In 2006, mumps, a deadly disease that had been eradicated in the US, had an outbreak with reported cases in eight states.  The outbreak occurred because unvaccinated children caught and spread the disease, resulting in 15 deaths.  When you don’t vaccinate your child you not only put your own child’s life on the line, but that of someone else’s child as well.  I’m an advocate for personal medical freedom and the rights of parents to know what is best for their children. I relish my customizable life, ringtone for every feeling, adjustable payment plans. But vaccinations are not customizable, not negotiable.  Just as drunk driving puts yourself and others at risk, not vaccinating endangers both your child and others. 

What do we do about this outbreak of non-vaccination?  Parents need to be educated about vaccinations so they can make informed decisions.   Public health officials need to take a stand before exemption becomes epidemic.  And by stand I don’t mean a seat on 60 minutes with Dr. Important “comforting” the public with his alphabet of acronyms.  In 1998, former doctor Andrew Wakefield published an article linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism.  With charisma and a strong simple message he swayed thousands of parents to question vaccination.  In response, public health officials published in the Institute of Medicine Review.  "…the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship" - a weak statement to counter the bold assertions of the charismatic doctor, unlikely to be understood by the average parent. Anti-vaccination groups are using rhetoric of the people, while public health is issuing retractions and calling for additional studies.  These limp wrists and weak fists leave parents without a reliable and convincing source of medical information on vaccine safety.  Educators need to be urgent, informative and conversational to gain the trust and understanding of the public.  In school we are taught how to appreciate foreign cultures in order to implement new public health interventions, yet we don’t understand our own culture enough to educate and influence. In order to make a policy truly effect change we need a message that resonates.  An educational campaign complete with Oprah sponsorship and “Got Vaccines?” clothes line.

When traveling in India I saw a man with polio.  Hunched over with wasted limbs he screamed in pain and for mercy.  It was nothing short of a miracle when Jonas Salk licensed the polio vaccine in 1962.  The vaccine has eliminated polio from most countries in the world, and reduced the worldwide incidence from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 1,652 cases in 2007.  Now that polio has been eradicated in the US the crippling effects of the disease are no longer visible.  Out of sight and out of mind, parents are forgetting how dangerous these diseases are and are more worried about the infinitesimal chance of adverse events following vaccination than they are that their child will suffer from deadly, debilitating diseases that struck fear in the hearts of parents a single generation before, when vaccines were not yet available. With an effective educational campaign these vaccine safety concerns will seem appropriately slight compared to the horror of polio and measles.  Public health officials need to get this message across to the public or all of the progress we’ve made will be for naught.

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