Are Vaccines on our New Year’s Resolution List? Fodder for Thought!
The following are some NBC news items from this past year about vaccine preventable diseases. As this year comes to an end, my New Year’s Hope for our community is that we will not suffer these diseases and their sad consequences because all of us will do our part to protect ourselves and our families, friends and neighbors by keeping our immunizations current and up to date. Some of us can not get immunizations due to true medical conditions and depend on the grace and good-will of others to be protected from these diseases.
Every adolescent and adult should have at least one Tdap vaccine to remain protected from Whooping Cough (Pertussis). The outbreak of Pertussis in California can occur in Georgia and every other State in the U.S. when the community proportion of immunized persons falls below an important threshold of protection.
The Tdap vaccine should be given to every pregnant woman with every pregnancy in the last trimester of her pregnancy to boost her antibody level against Whooping Cough. This antibody boost flows into her fetus prior to delivery and protects her baby from Whooping Cough through the first 6 months of life until the baby’s own immunizations provide adequate protection. Whooping Cough (Pertussis) kills babies under 3-6 months of age. This vaccine is safe for all mothers-to-be and is their first gift of love and protection to their unborn child. Her second gift is asking her family and friends to get their Tdap vaccines before the baby is born in preparation for their first visit.
Parental decisions about immunizing or not immunizing their children are not always easy or straightforward. The science of the safety and effectiveness of childhood and adult immunizations is not always believed. As one of my physician teachers pointed out to me, “Fear Trumps Science.” Fear does not always respond to reassuring factual information. While we live in a democratic pluralistic society and we must respect the rights of others, we all have a duty to make rational decisions that benefit ourselves and the common good. Remember the parable of the man who while drowning refuses help and assistance from three boats passing by while waiting for G-d to save him. After drowning on presenting himself at the pearly gates, he asks G-d, “Why did you not save me as I knew that you would?” G-d answered, “What did you want from me? I sent three boats to save you.” G-d gave us minds to improve and perfect the world, and with these minds, man created vaccines to prevent the scourge of disease. Get on the boat when it passes by.
One has to wonder how big an epidemic and how much preventable suffering must occur in a community before those who fear vaccines fear the scourge of disease more, and will rush to the end of the line to get immunized.
No vaccine is 100% effective. Whooping Cough is called the 100 day cough. Although it’s not usually fatal to older children and adults, it is no fun and it is highly contagious! It’s not children who give infants and children Whooping Cough (Pertussis), it’s adults (often parents and family) who spread it to others. Pertussis can be fatal to infants under 3-6 months of age. The improved DTaP vaccine that children have gotten for decades is safer than it has ever been, but there is growing evidence that its protection against Whooping Cough wears off sooner than hoped for, 3-5 years instead of 10 years or longer. The old whole cell DTP vaccine was very effective providing 10 year plus immunity to Whooping Cough, but the vaccine had more troublesome side-effects. Even though the newer DTaP and Tdap is far safer though less long lasting, it is more effective than NO vaccine at all. Until a safe and longer lasting “P” component of DTaP & Tdap is developed, children and adults should get the current “P” vaccine to protect against Whooping Cough. Please encourage pregnant women to get their “P” vaccine (Tdap) in their last trimester, even if they have had Tdap previously prior to pregnancy. And if you plan to visit a household where there is an infant under age one year, have the consideration to have had your Tdap (as an adult) at least once in the past decade or a few weeks before you enter their household if you have not yet had Tdap.
Atlanta is one of the nation’s Metropolitan areas where there is a growing number of school children whose parents have chosen to delay or defer immunization in part or in whole. We are prime for an outbreak of preventable childhood diseases, such as Measles, Mumps, Whooping Cough, etc. This is a dangerous situation. Don’t wait until the news media report disease in Atlanta or Georgia; keep up with your immunizations now. Let that be among your New Year’s Resolutions.
It doesn’t take an Amish Community to have a significant number of unimmunized or under immunized children and adults. Just look down your neighborhood street to the right and to the left. Odds are most of your adult neighbors have not had a Tdap vaccine and many of their children are missing necessary vaccines to protect themselves and the community. If your community has a homeowner's association (HOA), why not create an educational program to inform and remind everyone about preventable diseases and important immunizations? This program won’t convince everyone to act, but it will many. There is no need to embarrass anyone by asking them to reveal their vaccine status or philosophy; simply present information and let people make their own rational choices. Perhaps your doctors or your County Public Health Department will provide information or speakers for your HOA program. If you do not have an HOA, perhaps your church, synagogue, or mosque will sponsor a similar educational program for their membership.
Who would have thought we might be thinking of a polio epidemic in the USA in the 21st century? This has not happened YET, but the only protection against a polio epidemic is the polio vaccine. We only use IPV (inactivated polio vaccine) in the U.S. IPV cannot cause polio. It is NOT a live vaccine. It is safe. We have military in countries where polio is occurring and although our soldiers are immunized against polio, of course, there is no 100% effective vaccine. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a healthy soldier could bring polio back to the US where the virus might spread. If not the military, then perhaps polio might be imported into the U.S. by international travelers. After all Atlanta does have an international airport. When parents choose to delay or defer childhood vaccines, polio is often the vaccine saved to last if it is given at all. Parents feel that polio presents no real risk to their children. But we don’t live in a bubble. International travelers and returning military interact with us daily in Metropolitan Atlanta. We watch movies in cinemas and shop in grocery stores and malls with international travelers whether we know it or not. We all handle the same currency and hold on to the same escalator handrails. And this is as it should be. Make a New Year’s Resolution to be sure your children are current with their polio vaccines. If you plan to travel abroad, seek out current vaccine recommendations from www.cdc.gov/travel for the country or countries to which you are traveling.
Our Public Health Authorities and the CDC continuously monitor our public health. Vaccine recommendations are an ongoing dynamic reality. We will look to them to keep us abreast of current risks and what we can do to prevent and respond to preventable disease.
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Quanza and a Healthy New Year!