Outbreaks Remind Us of Dangers of Disease and Benefits of Vaccines
Rafiki, the wise old mandrill in Disney’s Lion King movie, made a profound statement that is extremely relevant to the current U.S. measles outbreak that began in Disneyland in December, 2014:
Yes, the past can hurt. Infectious diseases have a history of being dangerous and deadly.
All you have to do is look at history to see how many millions of lives have been lost, or how many people have been permanently disabled, by infectious diseases. It’s no small number. And, there’s a long list of diseases that we can now prevent that have been leading killers in the past. Today, vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide. Vaccines given to infants and young children in the U.S. over the past two decades will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes. While it’s hard to see what doesn’t occur, the fact remains that vaccines save lives and prevent suffering.
Some people will choose to run from the past. They’re called vaccine refusers.
No matter how much scientific evidence there is to prove vaccines are responsible for the incredible reduction of disease worldwide, there will always be some people who will run from the truth. They either debate it, or simply ignore it. These are the people who purposely refuse vaccines. Sometimes they focus their efforts on trying to pin every possible ailment known to man (from SIDS, asthma, allergies, autism, etc.) on vaccines. Other times they focus on the risk associated with vaccines. In the case of the MMR vaccine, they prefer to focus on the less than a one in one million chance of a serious adverse reaction rather than the fact that one or two of every 1,000 children who have measles will likely die. What is particularly frustrating is their tendency to ignore the present reality as well as the past. In cases when the scientific community has investigated their concerns, they ignore the findings because they fail to support their previously held beliefs.
Most people have learned from the past, but remain at risk from those who haven’t.
Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of people vaccinate. These are the people who actively try to protect themselves, their families, and others in their community, by contributing to the benefits of herd immunity and trying to reduce the transmission of vaccine preventable diseases. Unfortunately, the minority can sometimes jeopardize the herd.
Take the Van Tornhout family for instance. Today mark’s the fifth anniversary of their daughter Callie’s death. Callie was exposed to pertussis before she was old enough to begin her DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccination series. Her story was featured on CNN last week, as an example of how concerning the current measles outbreak is. Unfortunately, there are many children under the age of one who are too young to receive the regularly scheduled MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine who are at increased risk of complications of measles as a direct result of this outbreak.
Sadly, the Van Tornhout’s can’t run from the past. Every day without their daughter Callie is a reminder of why they must continue to educate people on the importance of vaccines.
Stories like Callie’s are shared repeatedly. On the national news. On various social media sites. On websites and blogs. And even around the family dinner table. We share these stories so people will realize that these diseases still pose a threat to our children, especially those too young to be fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, some people remain conflicted about the lessons of the past. On the one hand, they consider vaccinating to protect themselves and their children from these preventable diseases because they hear stories about children like Callie. But on the other hand, they’re frightened by prolific misinformation that reinforces their suspicions that vaccines may be harmful. For fear of making the wrong decision, they fail to make the responsible decision to vaccinate, which then results in a decision which jeopardizes the health of everyone else in their communities.