Active Interest in Vaccines Leads to Improved Public Health
Apr 05, 2013

NPHW_Logo_It’s National Public Health Week and this year’s focus is on ROI –  Return On Investment.  Considering today’s budgetary challenges, it’s imperative that we spend public health funds wisely.  And what better way to evaluate our investment than to consider the savings we earn from each dollar spent.  According to the American Public Health Associationchildhood immunizations provide a $22 return on every $1 invested in direct and indirect health costs.  They also save 33,000 lives and prevent 14 million cases of disease. 
While vaccinations help keep our children healthy, this amazing return on investment would not be possible without the support of health care workers and public health professionals all across the country. As they work to promote National Public Health Week, perhaps we should take a moment to consider how we can support them.  Of course, it begins by committing ourselves to a healthy lifestyle.  But is that enough?  Public health needs to engage the public at large.  Are we not called to encourage good public health behaviors within our communities as well?  Can we be more active in promoting immunizations among our friends, families, co-workers and neighbors?
While we may not expect a casual conversation to convince a friend to overcome their vaccine hesitancy, or a shared Facebook link to change the mind of a vaccine critic, it’s likely that these small persistent actions can help to educate others and bring the importance of vaccines to the forefront of public health.  Sharing reputable sources and encouraging people to investigate their concerns is just one way we can each help to improve vaccination rates, which in turn can help ensure healthier communities.
As we evaluate our individual role in public health, I would like to pose a simple question, that was recently posed to a group of parents in a pro-vaccine parenting group.

“What piqued your interest in vaccines?”

As one might expect, every response is different.  Yet, each individual experience has certain similarities and helps illustrate that intelligent discussion about vaccines can help identify dangerous misinformation. Amanda, who posed the initial question to the group, explained that her interest began with a biology course her freshman year of college.  She said,

“Some grad students came in and gave a talk about the Hep B vaccine and encouraged us to get the series. I did and I encouraged my co-workers and friends to do so too. Knowing how easy it was to contract and how easily I could prevent it was empowering! When I married a Bangladeshi, I knew we would always fully vaccinate because my husband saw the effects of polio and smallpox and other diseases firsthand.”

Carla explained that what piqued her interest was 

“Becoming a mom and realizing the amount of people not vaccinating.  I don’t think I realized what a polarizing issue this had become.”

Kristine had a similar story about the anti-vaccine sentiment she encountered.

“It happened after my son was born.  I became exposed to the anti-vaccine people on parenting sites, especially Dr. Sears. I started searching around for pro-vaccine sites and info, and found Vaccinate Your Baby.  But first I spent hours weeding through the cray-cray anti-vaccine crap which dominated the Google search results!”

As a hospital employee Tiffany had always been interested in immunizations, but in 2009 she was surprised to realize that there were some people who didn’t support vaccines.

“A couple of months after H1N1 hit, I was laid up for a month. Since I was pretty useless, I started really playing around on Facebook, fell into the CDC page and saw all the insane crap being posted. Crazy stuff that I had never even heard of, H1N1 is a government cover up, NWO, RFID chips… I was floored. I worked with the virus. I worked days on end trying to keep up with the overwhelming number of patients, as did every hospital employee. Patients were dying – pregnant women, children, otherwise healthy people – and these nut jobs were posting it was a conspiracy to kill thousands of people or a big pharma plot to make money. I never knew there was so much crazy out there. I had never really thought about it too much.  Why wouldn’t you vaccinate? Being new to the forums back then taught me some valuable lessons.  I met some wonderful people and learned (and am still learning) from many knowledgeable people.”

After suspecting her own child may have had a vaccine reaction, Jennifer realized how parents could easily fall victim to the anti-vaccine agenda.

“I had my first child, and I had been getting her immunized on schedule, because I had never questioned vaccinating. I want to say her 6 month jabs came and went, and she happened to pick up a stomach bug right around the same time. So I had this freshly vaccinated, miniature version of Linda Blair, feverish, and crying. (Luckily I was living with my dad at the time, and he kept me calm enough to not have a super mommy meltdown.) Anyways, as most horror stories go, I went to Dr. Google with her symptoms, and landed in woo hell. After a good look through some super woo, and thinking ‘these people can’t be serious’, I strayed back into the realms of reality, and found sites with real info, that weren’t crazy, and that was that. I hadn’t thought to question vaccines before that, but afterwards, I was even more confident in my decision, and decided I couldn’t just stand by and let others who are more easily swayed, be pulled into the whackadoodle vortex.  Thus, I become a vaccine advocate, both online and out in the real world. :)”

Several parents explained that their jobs and scientific backgrounds were the biggest influence in their pro-vaccine position.  Katie, who works for a vaccine manufacturer, said that hearing Dr. Offit speak was extremely motivational and opened her eyes to the anti-vaccine movement.  And although Elizabeth has a masters in public health, she hadn’t realized there was an anti-vaccine movement until a coworker gave her a copy of one of Dr. Offit’s books. Another mother explained that her autism research at Yale, along with reading Dr. Offit’s Autism’s False Prophets, made her actively pro-vaccine.
Interestingly enough, it’s common to hear vaccine critics claim that parents need to “do their research” before making a vaccination decision.  But as I continued reading through the various responses from this group of parents, it became obvious that reading the research is why so many of them came out on the side of science. Take for instance this parent who explains what happened when a close friend’s child was diagnosed with autism.  She says,

“I started to hear the “vaccines caused it!” nonsense, and said “that ain’t soundin’ right to me,” and started reading. And reading. And reading. And reading research. And more research. Etc. And here I am.

Amanda added,

“A friend of mine, who had her first child a few months after I had my first, told me she was not vaccinating and that I should “do my research” and that there were “too many risks” and that “all Christians should examine the vaccine ingredients.” I checked out all of that and became totally pro-vax.”

So, in honor of National Public Health week, I ask that you consider your own story and add it to the comments below.   

How did you become interested in vaccines?

What have you done to encourage vaccination and good health? 

By sharing our stories, we share our commitment to good health.  If you would like to join others in advocating for vaccines, sign up to Get Involved on the Vaccinate Your Baby website today.  You will receive free alerts and important notifications about current immunization issues.  It’s only with your active participation that we can hope for a Return on Investment that is absolutely priceless.

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