Hot Topic: Immunizations
(They Save Lives and They’re Not Just for Kids)
Blame the measles. The outbreak of 2014 set a record and again focused a spotlight on the importance of childhood vaccinations. Last year, there were 668 cases from 27 states reported to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). The CDC says this was the highest number of cases of measles reported since its elimination in the U.S. in 2000. Since August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), we thought it’d be a great time to take a look at what happened – and how it can be avoided in the future.
The initial source of the measles outbreak last year was traced to an amusement park in California. Since measles is still present in many countries around the world, it wasn’t unusual that someone visiting a major theme park would have it. What was unusual was how quickly is spread across the U.S.—where measles outbreaks hadn’t been a problem.
It soon became apparent that the rapid multi-state spread was directly connected to the fact that the majority of individuals who had become infected had not received the measles vaccine. The entire event — and ongoing battle to get measles back under control — have infused new life into the to-vaccinate-or-not-to-vaccinate discussion. Here, we’ll examine what the experts have to say and what myth-busting advice is available.
Dr. Marco Coppola, Chief Medical Officer, has advice for parents on the fence: “I have immunized my own children and recommend all parents take this vital step in helping keep their own children healthy. If you’re unsure, consult a physician or do your own research to have the right information about the right medical care for your children. Adhering to the recommended childhood immunization schedule is an essential part of helping protect children from the threat of preventable infectious disease.”
There are a number of myths about vaccines that not only need busted—but which may prove dangerous for your kids. Here are eight common myths that need to be put to rest:
- Myth: Receiving so many vaccines is too much for my child’s body to handle. While it’s true that the number of recommended vaccines in a child’s first two years are a lot, studies prove that the various combinations and volume of vaccinations are not only necessary, but safe.
- Myth: As long as the children around them are vaccinated, my children don’t need to be. Consider it a tug-of-war against preventable disease, and in order to fight it, your child needs a spot on the rope line. The term “herd immunity” is frequently used and perhaps misinterpreted, because in order for everyone to benefit from group protection, approximately 95% of the pack needs to be immunized.
- Myth: Since most major illnesses have disappeared, we really don’t need vaccines anymore. That would be nice – if it were true. But the fact is that many communities in America still have outbreaks of preventable disease and unvaccinated children can spread disease both to each other and to vulnerable family members, like the elderly.
- Myth: Vaccines cause autism, as well as other problems. This is a big one – and gained steam because of a reported link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism in England some years ago. However, such a link has been repeatedly discredited by scientific studies, including two reports by the S. Institute of Medicine (IOM). Since there are a number of developmental changes happening during the time that vaccines are given, they are often blamed, but are an innocent party in the mix.
- Myth: The vaccine may cause the disease it’s supposed to prevent. Although most vaccines are made from a killed form of the organism, some are created with a weakened live version. These may cause some mild reactions, such as a little fever or rash, but none have the ability to replicate and cause a full-blown version of the disease as if a child had contracted it naturally.
- Myth: Vaccines contain dangerous preservatives. There’s a history of controversy about the use of thimerosal as a preservative in vaccines. This was due to the fact that it contains a form of mercury called ethylmercury – though further studies have proven that ethylmercury doesn’t create the same health hazards as methylmercury. Regardless, thimerosal was removed from nearly all childhood vaccines in 1999. It is still present in some flu vaccines, but you can request that a thimerosal-free version be given.
- Myth: Vaccines provide complete protection from disease. Again, that would be nice, if it were true. But the reality is that two major factors impact 100% prevention, even when your child has been vaccinated: the composition of the vaccine itself (live weakened virus is more effective than inactivated virus) and how many people in the group have been vaccinated. In this case, the more the better.
- Myth: It’s better to wait until my child is older to starting giving vaccines. Children are most vulnerable to disease during their earliest months and years, when their immune systems are underdeveloped – which is why immunization schedules are designed the way they are. This provides a window of opportunity to provide them with protection when they need it most, as well as when their immune systems will respond most effectively to build up resistance to disease.
It’s important to have the most accurate information available, in order to make the best decisions for your child’s health. Instead of reacting to what others have told you, dig into the facts for yourself, so you can create your own informed opinion.
Not just for kids
Although much of the angst related to vaccines involves kids, they’re important for adults, too. If you’re not aware of what’s recommended for adults, you’re not alone. But getting vaccinated appropriately could help protect you from some serious diseases. According to the 2013 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS):
- Only about 1 out of 5(21%) adults 19-64 years old with certain high-risk medical conditions had received a pneumococcal vaccination.
- Only about 1 out of 4(24%) adults 60 years and older, had received a shingles vaccination.
- Only about 1 out of 6(17%) adults 19 years and older, had received a Tdap vaccine in the last 8 years to provide protection from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).
The CDC says that all adults need:
- Influenza (flu) vaccine every year
- Tdor Tdap vaccine: Every adult should get the Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as an adolescent to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), and then a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years. In addition, women should get the Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks.
Other vaccines you may need as an adult are determined by factors such as age, lifestyle, health conditions, employment, international travel, and any previous vaccinations you may have received. Depending on your age, health conditions, and other factors, these vaccinations may include:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Certainly, one of your greatest concerns is your child’s health—and yours as well. Adhering to the recommended immunization schedule is one of the best ways to ensure that everyone remains healthy and free of preventable disease. For more about immunizations, check out these additional resources: the Immunization Action Coalition, the CDC Parents’ Guide to Childhood Immunizations, and National Immunization Awareness Month resources.