National Immunization Awareness Month

August 9, 2022

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What's your vaccination status? Although vaccinations are something most associate with newborn babies and young children, vaccinations are not a one and done occurrence in life. Especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations are at the forefront of communities, politics, and our daily lives. Our status as vaccinated or un-vaccinated and the very serious health choices we make that can impact our families and our communities, makes this National Immunization Awareness Month all the more crucial to discuss amongst our loved ones and our healthcare providers.

Vaccine hesitancy is not a term you would have heard 2 years ago, however due to the many myths around the COVID-19 we have seen communities, families and social circles driven apart by the battle between myths and scientific fact. The conversation on vaccine safety is not a new one and the myths surrounding vaccines are not a new obstacle to healthcare providers. Perhaps because vaccination takes place in infancy through adolescence, or perhaps not enough Americans are pro-active participants in their preventative healthcare, it would seem that there is no consensus on vaccines and this is the true monster our nation battles as we grapple with yet another year of rising COVID cases, new strains and blows to our economy, our communities and our families.

Myth vs. Fact

So, what is true and what is false? Furthermore, who can we trust is right on the matter and what determines their validity? First and foremost, we need to discuss the state of vaccinations and epidemiology in the nation and in the world. Seemingly correlated to the eradication of smallpox, the efficacy of vaccination reached a fever pitch in which a false sense of safety was gained by many in the U.S. and modernized countries. Contrary to popular belief in mostly vaccinated countries, smallpox and the number of very serious diseases that have been eradicated in our modern times, has served as a blinder to a much bigger picture on epidemics. The truth is that although disease such as smallpox has been eradicated does not mean that there aren’t other diseases out there with which to be vigilant. It is only through the continued accessibility to immunization can we expect to continue to enjoy the safety that we feel in the against certain vaccine-preventable diseases.

Myth: Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Are a Thing of the Past

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC, Europe and the United States still experiences measles outbreaks annually. In 2019, more than half of U.S. states reported measle outbreaks with the number of cases reported being the greatest since 1992. The majority of these cases were among people who were not vaccinated. Furthermore, the state of immunization in the U.S. and Europe disregards the many vaccine-preventable diseases that persist in countries who have little to no access to these lifesaving vaccines. As the world becomes more connected it is true that these vaccines may become more accessible to countries who need them most, however in the same fashion the myths that are borne from vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. and Europe serve as a barrier to getting these vaccines out to the world and in turn a barrier to saving the lives of millions.

Myth: Vaccines Are Not Safe

In addition to the indifference countries like U.S. and Europe are exhibiting toward vaccines, the misconception that vaccines aren't safe further add to the tremendous obstacles that medical providers face when trying to impact communities through immunization. In order to perpetuate the importance of vaccines on a global scale it is critical to abide by the empirical data that points to its superiority in preventing the serious diseases that can devastate communities. In the case of vaccine safety, the WHO points to the rigorous and exhausting evaluation and testing that is employed to ensure the safety and efficacy of vaccines that are released to the public. In addition, vaccines are not simply released upon the public with neglect, rather organizations such as the WHO and the CDC continue to monitor all vaccines and investigate any serious side effect reported to ensure their safety.

Myth: Vaccines Cause Autism

One such case concerned the link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism which was called into question by a 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield. In this instance WHO launched an extensive investigation into the study. The study by Wakefield was found to be seriously flawed and the paper was retracted by the publication. In addition, Wakefield was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom in 2010 and is no longer allowed to practice medicine in the U.K. Additional studies after this debacle further proved that there was no strong evidence that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism.

Fact vs. Fiction

In this modern age of information scholarly articles and discourse on medicine and medical care that were previously privy to only the scholarly elite are increasingly accessible. The accessibility to information is an important component of the transparency that is necessary between medical providers and patients to make informed decisions on health. However, it is important to keep in mind that because of this increased accessibility the general public is now bearing witness, in real time, to the complexities of the scientific process that can lead to misinformation regarding health such as in the case of the supposed link between MMR vaccines and autism. Traditionally, scholarly articles and publications go through a process of review, questioning, challenges to methodology and the like that either cement or dismantle arguments or theories posed by academics. This process can at times take years before a consensus can be reached especially within the medical community. For the general public, communities, families and individuals it is now more important than ever to practice good research techniques and employing the rules of empirical research before making decisions based off of the barrage of new information that is released on a daily basis.

If you, or a loved one count themselves amongst the startling number of Americans who are vaccine-hesitant this is an invitation to think seriously on the research that points to the efficacy of immunization and their importance in keeping communities safe. Let us all do our due diligence in practicing proper research skills, and continue to welcome healthy dialogue on vaccines so that we as an island, and as a nation can build a healthier future. The most important thing to remember is for every random blog post you see online, or questionable article you read on Facebook, be sure to consult your most reliable source of health information – your doctor. Your medical providers can do more than diagnose your illness, but rather help you navigate your health and give you the information you need to make the right health decisions for you.