Vaccines: Social media vs. Science

Before lifesaving vaccines existed, thousands of infants, children and even adults died from diseases such as whooping cough, polio, measles, etc.  Vaccines not only protect the individual receiving the vaccine from the disease but also serve to prevent the spread of disease within a population. For instance, before the measles vaccination existed there were approximately 2.6 million deaths globally each year[1]. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, today obtaining measles is so rare most doctors have never even seen a case. [2]

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Virginia has one of the lowest vaccination rates (64.4%) for children aged 19-35 months in the country .[3] Although there could be many contributing factors to Virginia’s performance on immunizations, I believe it is crucially important to stress and re-educate the public on the importance of vaccines and on the consequences of preventable diseases resurfacing because of lack of immunization. Today information travels at the speed of a click, and many of us are simply too lazy to do our own research and instead rely on social media content as our primary source of information.  It is eminent to understand that not everything one reads online (especially from a non-credible source) is accurate.

I believe the anti-vaccination movement is one of the main contributors to why vaccination rates have dropped.  This movement began when in 1998, a British scientist, Andrew Wakefield, published false research findings regarding the MMR vaccinations and their correlation with autism and bowel disease. Yet, because these results were false, no other researcher could back up the results and eventually Andrew Wakefield’s findings were disqualified and he lost his medical license.[4] Although, that was 20 years ago, there still has not been any evidence suggesting vaccines, and autism are correlated in any way, many people still strongly believe that there is an association. We can all have various believes and thoughts and parents can have different parenting skills, but there is a dangerous line that must not be crossed when it comes to the health of one’s children. In Virginia, just like all other states, there are specific  immunizations required for children entering grade school. In Virginia, the required immunizations include DTap, DTP or Tdap, HIB, Hepatitis B, HPV, MMR, PCV, Polio and Varicella or chicken pox immunization[5].  Virginia, along with several other states states have religious and medical exemptions, which would exempt the children from receiving the required vaccinations due to a religious belief or if the physician feels the ingredients in the vaccine could be harmful to the child’s health. On the other hand, in order to receive this exemption a written affidavit must be provided to the superintendent of the school district.[6]

I have a friend who opted on vaccinated her second child because of information she read on blogs and non-scientific sites. My friend is a Christian and technically, there is nothing in her religion that exempts her from getting an exempt for school, or daycare, and she struggles finding a daycare for her son. In addition, he does have a delayed learning disability and gets colds frequently. Now, I cannot specifically say that he gets sick often because of his lack of immunizations yet there is no scientific evidence to back up reasons why not to get vaccinated but there is proof of the millions of lives saved because of vaccinations!

Efforts from different stakeholders have been made in order to improve childhood vaccinations, especially when it comes to the HPV vaccination. Due to its importance, Virginia Center for Health Innovation has made it aim II on their 2018 Virginia Heath Value Dashboard to improve Virginia’s immunization status. Strategies include but are not limited to educate the public about the effectiveness of HPV vaccine in preventing HPV-related cancers, help providers encourage parents to vaccinate their children and use registries to remind them about their vaccination needs by sending them reminders, and establish policies in health-care places to receive influenza vaccination.[7] Overall, it is important to talk to your health care provider and make sure you and your children are up to date with all vaccinations to ensure a healthy life.

References:

[1] Measles. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles. Published January 22, 2018. Accessed May 22, 2018.

[2] Vaccines & Immunizations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm. Published March 10, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2018.

[3] Percent of Children AReferences:ge 19-35 Months Who Are Immunized. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/percent-who-are-immunized/?. Published March 8, 2018. Accessed May 15, 2018.

[4] Hilton S, Petticrew M, Hunt K. Parents’ champions vs. vested interests: Who do parents believe about MMR? A qualitative study. Advances in pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1851707/. Published 2007. Accessed May 21, 2018.

[5] Virginia Department of Health. Go to Virginia Department of Health. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/immunization/requirements/. Accessed May 21, 2018.

[6] Title 12. Health. § 18.2-422. Prohibition of wearing of masks in certain places; exceptions. https://law.lis.virginia.gov/admincode/title12/agency5/chapter110/section80/. Accessed May 21, 2018.

[7] State Health Improvement Plan. http://www.vahealthinnovation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Virginia-State-Health-Innovation-Plan-06.01.2016.pdf. Published June 2016. Accessed May 22, 2018.

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