Triumph Over Smallpox Reminds Us That Vaccines Help Prevent Disease Every Day
Every Child By Two’s State of the ImmUnion campaign is honoring National Immunization Awareness Month (#NIAM16) with a Blog Relay highlighting the importance of vaccines across the lifespan and across the nation.
In this guest post, we hear from Heidi Parker, MA, Executive Director of Immunize Nevada. She reminds us that promoting health and preventing disease is not just a cause to recognize during the month of August; instead, it is something we need to do each and every day.
By Heidi Parker, MA, Executive Director of Immunize Nevada
Dr. Donald A. Henderson passed away recently, with little media attention or fanfare. This is alarming, considering “saving millions of lives” was listed as one of his life accomplishments.
In case you’re wondering who he is, Dr. Henderson led the global effort to eradicate smallpox — a disease that, in the 20th century and before it was extinguished, was blamed for at least 300 million deaths. Clearly, his triumph over smallpox proved the power of vaccines.
During National Immunization Awareness Month, we are reminded that promoting health and preventing disease is not just a cause to recognize during the month of August; instead, it is something we need to do each and every day.
We must be relentless, much like Dr. Henderson was. Why? Because our news feeds continue to be filled with stories of vaccine-preventable diseases – a teen dies from meningococcal disease; a summer camp closes due to a whooping cough outbreak; college campuses battle mumps; measles spreads at music festivals; an infant too young to be vaccinated dies from pertussis; the list goes on.
In the United States, vaccines have reduced — and in some cases, eliminated — many of the diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. My great-grandfather died during the 1918 Influenza Flu Pandemic, along with millions of others; but decades later, our family is protected from this deadly virus when we get our annual flu shot. By vaccinating children against rubella (German measles), the risk that pregnant women will pass this virus on to their fetus or newborn has been dramatically decreased, and birth defects associated with that virus are now rarely seen. Countless examples like these demonstrate, day after day, vaccines are one of public health’s greatest achievements.
Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Americans still suffer serious health problems, are hospitalized, and even die from vaccine-preventable diseases. But if we continue vaccinating now, and according to the CDC recommended childhood, pre-teen and adult schedules, parents in the future may be able to trust that some diseases of today will no longer be around to harm their children and/or grandchildren. We know it can be done: Dr. Henderson’s efforts eradicated smallpox, and polio cases worldwide have been reduced by 99%.
And the good news is this: Getting vaccinated is easier than you think. Vaccines are available at doctors’ offices, pharmacies, workplaces, community health clinics and health departments. Visit HealthMap Vaccine Finder to help find a vaccine provider near you. (Or if you live in Nevada, visit immunizenevada.org.) Most health insurance plans cover the cost of recommended vaccines – a call to your insurance provider can give you the details. The Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program helps provide vaccines to children whose parents or guardians may not be able to afford them, and the Nevada Vaccine For Children program has information about how to qualify if you live in our state.
You have the power to protect yourself and the ones you love, and it is in your hands thanks to the tireless efforts of scientists and those making vaccines available to the masses, like Dr. Henderson. Don’t let that power go to waste: Talk to your healthcare professional about which vaccines are right for you and your family.
About the author: As executive director of Immunize Nevada, Heidi Parker, MA leads and engages a diverse coalition of staff, volunteers, member organizations and funders so they are passionate about vaccines and access to preventive health care across Nevada’s rural, urban and frontier communities. Bringing over two decades of experience in nonprofit program management, fundraising and marketing, she has dedicated her career to being able to affect her community in a positive way, whether working with Head Start families, victims of violence, college students or Nevadans needing immunizations.
Be sure to check out our full list of National Immunization Awareness Month Blog Relay guest posts which help depict today’s State of the ImmUnion through the eyes of immunization professionals all across the country – from TX and CA, to CO and ME.
Week 1: Everything is Bigger in Texas – Except When It’s Not: A Texan Reflects on #NIAM, by Anna Dragsbaek, President and CEO of The Immunization Partnership
Week 2: Pregnant Women Can Protect Babies From Pertussis Before Birth, by Dr. Elizabeth Rosenblum, Professor of Clinical Medicine at UC – San Diego Health System
Week 4: The State of the ImmUnion in Maine: Tweens, Teens and Vaccines, by Gabriel Civiello, MD in collaboration with Vax Maine Kids