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We really need to do better on vaccinations

Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, PhD, MPH and self-proclaimed “crunchy granola hippie”, writes in the Rivard Report about how we are letting infectious diseases regain a foothold.

In 1998, the World Health Organization declared that measles would be eradicated worldwide by 2007. In 2000, public health officials declared measles to be eliminated from the US. But instead of being eliminated, it returned with a vengeance: the CDC reported 11 outbreaks in the US in 2013.

In 2014 it’s been even worse, with Texas and California hit particularly hard. When one looks at the numbers, they tend to say “Ah, only a couple of hundred cases, that’s not much.” But what they’re forgetting is this: Measles kills. Like most vaccine-preventable diseases, it doesn’t always kill, but once we reach a critical number of cases, the likelihood that one of those children will die becomes much greater. For measles, that’s 500 cases.

It’s been many years since we’ve seen more than 500 cases in the US. But this year, as of May 14, there have been 216 cases in the US. Ever closer, we inch towards that critical threshold.

And it’s not just measles. The second M in MMR stands for Mumps. By May 27, 2014, there have been 464 cases of mumps in the U.S., most linked to outbreaks at Ohio State University and Fordham University in New York City.

And then Congenital Rubella (the “R” in MMR) rears its ugly head. For most of us, rubella is a mild illness, often not even noticed. But for pregnant women, it often results in the death of their fetus. If the baby survives, then there’s a high likelihood the baby will be born with severe abnormalities, all due to a preventable disease.

Pertussis is probably the most widespread vaccine preventable illness we see today. In 2000, if we’d seen more than 2,218 cases we saw in 2012, DSHS would have declared an epidemic. Today, this is the endemic level – the “new normal.”

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In Bexar County, 65.7 percent children under the age of three have received all the required vaccinations.

That sounds pretty good, except when you learn that the US National Goal is 80 percent, and for some diseases, we need at least 90 percent of all kids vaccinated to fully protect the entire population.

Why? Why would anyone not prevent a disease when it’s so easily preventable?

Partly it’s the disinformation coming from uninformed and/or dishonest sources that scares people into misidentifying the relative risks (spoiler alert: childhood vaccines are totally safe), partly it’s the public health profession being a victim of its own success – out of sight, out of mind, and all that – and partly it’s insufficient outreach. The main thing to keep in mind is that a lack of vaccination – and Bexar County is not alone in its low participation rate, as you’ll see if you click over – puts us all at risk. You and I may have been vaccinated as kids, but most vaccines eventually run out of potency and need to be supplemented later in life. Without a high enough vaccination rate to ensure herd immunity, even healthy previously vaccinated adults can come down with these diseases. So please, vaccinate your kids, tell everyone you know to vaccinate their kids, and support policies and politicians that provide funds and resources for vaccinating as many kids as possible. The person you save from getting measles or pertussis later in life may be you.

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One Comment

  1. N.M. Horwitz says:

    Perhaps, for one, we shouldn’t keep re-electing anti-vaxers to public office. #JustASuggestion

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