The “Almost” of Vaccination

August 8, 2014 

I would be remiss if I didn’t report that August is immunization month.

The month that we should look back to our success in battling disease.

Alas, this is also a month to recognize the “almost” we have endured in the fight against disease.

We “almost” eradicated polio from the face of the earth, “almost” measles, “almost” pertussis, I could go on and on. Perhaps we must realize what the “almost” represents in our community.

If we are looking at it from the perspective of “almost” preventing a son, daughter, sibling, parent or friend from dying, “almost” leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. This is especially true given what we know about the effectiveness of vaccination.

The HPV vaccine, for example, could save the 4,000 women who die each year from cervical cancer. Would it be acceptable if 16 passenger planes, each carrying 250 people, crash every single year due to a preventable cause?

Let’s go back to the year 2000.

Y2K didn’t kill us all and Missouri had a Super Bowl winner (it hurt to write that). Also occurring in that year was the eradication of measles in the United States due to high vaccination rates. Today we have witnessed over 566 cases reported in 20 states within seven short months, mainly occurring throughout pockets of unvaccinated populations.

Measles is an extremely infectious disease that is spread through coughing, breathing or sneezing, and it kills approximately 164,000 people each year throughout the world. This makes the concept that we would let this killer just walk back into the country peculiar.

There are plenty of examples that illustrate the importance of maintaining vaccination, and ultimately preventing disease and death. In 1974, 80 percent of Japanese children were getting pertussis immunizations translating to only 393 cases and zero deaths.

When the population became used to low cases of whooping cough, vaccinations plummeted until only 10 percent of the population was vaccinated. In 1979, there were 13,000 reported cases and 41 deaths. Vaccination rates were normalized, and the number of cases and deaths dropped back to very low numbers. Those 41 people died for no other reason than complacency.

As we come upon the 2014/2015 school year, it is especially important that you and your children are up to date on all of the applicable vaccines.

Disease can run rampant in a school building, easily illustrated by outbreaks of the flu, pertussis and other diseases that can easily transfer into the home environment. It is perfectly acceptable to have questions when you take your child to your medical provider or health department for vaccinations.

We will provide answers to your questions, and additional sources and materials supported by good science to illustrate just how important vaccines are in protecting you and your family. Call the health department for shot records, general vaccine questions, or to schedule appointments for you and your family at 816-380-8431.

Don’t let someone you love be a statistic of “almost” prevention.

Ray Dlugolecki is a health educator for the Cass County Health Department.

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