As the anti-vaccination movement becomes more popular in certain regions of the country, it is important for medical professionals to provide patients with a wide range of information on the benefits of vaccines. Rumors and conspiracy theories regarding vaccinations encourage some parents to shy away from scheduling shots for their children, but this misinformation directly jeopardizes the health of those who choose to forgo vaccinations. Although fewer than 1 percent of Americans decline all vaccines, certain areas of the country are using religious and philosophical arguments to justify remaining unvaccinated.1 This movement has led to high numbers of unvaccinated kindergartners in certain regions, nearly as high as 5 percent in some communities.2 This poses an eminent danger if a disease were to enter the area.
How vaccinations work
For some, the idea of vaccines might seem counterintuitive. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that many diseases, such as polio or meningitis, have become rare thanks to vaccines, but as these diseases are not yet completely eradicated, immunizations are still a crucial part of disease prevention.3 If we decided as a nation to stop immunizing against potentially deadly diseases, it would only be a matter of time before they resurfaced and an epidemic would likely occur.
Vaccines work with the body’s immune system to prevent infections. The vaccine mimics a dangerous illness but does not cause the illness, however the immune system develops the same response as if it did.4 Essentially, a vaccine gives the immune system a chance to build up an army of antibodies that can fight an infection. Each disease is different and so are the antibodies that fight them, that’s why children need to receive regular immunizations for various diseases.
Changing schedules and attitudes
The anti-vaccination movement has entered into the public radar as of late due to the outspoken support of several celebrities. Furthermore, many Americans still believe the long-debunked myth that vaccines can cause autism.5 This has altered the way some doctors choose to accept new patients. Some medical professionals have stated that they will not regularly attend to unvaccinated children who potentially put their other patients at risk.6 This is partly due to a concept called herd immunity, or the idea that even unvaccinated people are at a lower risk of catching a disease if a higher percentage of the community is vaccinated.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) reviews vaccination schedules each year.7 Several new references were added in 2014, specifically vaccination advisories for adults 19 years of age or older. The CDC website holds a plethora of information on vaccines, including current recommended immunization schedules for those 0 to 18, as well as those who need to catch up on immunizations.8 The documents are easy to read and print out, and the CDC offers them in both English and Spanish.
Vaccines are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and nations around the world receive recommendations on vaccines from the World Health Organization.
Ebola vaccine on the horizon
In pharmacy technology news, the United States government is working toward developing a vaccine that may be ready for dispersion as early as next year. The recent outbreak of Ebola in West African countries has become a global discussion. The disease is not easily contagious, only being spread through direct contact with the bodily fluid of an infected entity. Ebola is spread to humans from animals, including infected chimpanzees, fruit bats and monkeys. There are several strains of the disease, which makes finding a vaccine challenging. A successful vaccine will have to be able to provide immunity against all the strains of Ebola.
However, Ebola outbreaks are rare, which is perhaps one of the reasons it has taken so long for a vaccine to be created. On a global scale, Ebola only causes around 900 deaths annually, which is certainly not a number to scoff at, but is diminutive when compared to cancer or TB.9 Another challenge is that the disease is geographically unpredictable, cases can arise in any community. This makes Ebola challenging to contain, because vaccines are less effective at containing an epidemic than preventing one. It takes time for a vaccine to help the body build up an immunity, so once an outbreak of a disease has occurred, there is little the vaccine can do to stop it.
In this regard it is important to remember that vaccines are necessary preventative measures. The health of the nation relies on children being vaccinated against diseases that have plagued us in the past. Preventing dangerous illnesses such as hepatitis, measles, meningitis and diphtheria ensures the safety of both children and adults. Eventually, vaccinations lead to the total elimination of diseases. For example, there is no longer the need for a smallpox immunization because the disease has been entirely eliminated. Those in the medical profession have an obligation to help encourage immunizations and secure health on a communal and national level.
1“Skipping vaccinations can increase risk” by Gannett. The Town Talk. August 5, 2014. http://www.thetowntalk.com/article/20140805/LIFESTYLE/308050002/Skipping-vaccinations-can-increase-risk
2“Skipping vaccinations can increase risk” by Gannett. The Town Talk. August 5, 2014. http://www.thetowntalk.com/article/20140805/LIFESTYLE/308050002/Skipping-vaccinations-can-increase-risk
3“Why Immunize?” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 23, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/why.htm
4“Why Immunize?” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 23, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/why.htm
5“Skipping vaccinations can increase risk” by Gannett. The Town Talk. August 5, 2014. http://www.thetowntalk.com/article/20140805/LIFESTYLE/308050002/Skipping-vaccinations-can-increase-risk
6“Skipping vaccinations can increase risk” by Gannett. The Town Talk. August 5, 2014. http://www.thetowntalk.com/article/20140805/LIFESTYLE/308050002/Skipping-vaccinations-can-increase-risk
7“Vaccines & Immunizations” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/
8“Recommended Immunization Schedules for Persons Aged 0 Through 18 Years UNITED STATES, 2014” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 1, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/0-18yrs-child-combined-schedule.pdf
9“An Ebola Vaccine Is Not the Answer” by Olga Khazan. The Atlantic. August 5, 2014. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/an-ebola-vaccine-is-not-the-answer/375592/