The Trust For America’s Health (TFAH) recently examined the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies. They tracked progress and vulnerabilities, and included a review of state and federal public health preparedness policies. In their report titled Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, they found that 26 states and Washington, D.C. scored a six or lower on 10 key indicators of public health preparedness.
As Every Child By Two continues to report on the State of the ImmUnion, we’ve asked Trust for America’s Health to elaborate on the vaccine section of their report in the following guest post co-authored by Dara Alpert Lieberman, MPP, Senior Government Relations Manager and Albert Lang, Senior Communications Manager.
The Importance of Vaccines Can Never be Overstated
“Some of the greatest public health successes of the past century — including the worldwide eradication of smallpox and the elimination of polio, measles and rubella in the United States — are the result of successful vaccination programs.”
Yet, somewhere along the way we lost our wonder in the awe-inspiring results vaccines produce.
A recent model estimated that, from 1994-2013, the Vaccines for Children program prevented as many as 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths at a net savings of $1.38 trillion in societal costs. And, each year, we know that three million lives are saved because vaccines exist and are administered. According to the CDC:
- Nearly everyone in the U.S. got measles before there was a vaccine, and hundreds died from it each year. Today, most doctors have never seen a case of measles.
- More than 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria in 1921, before there was a vaccine. Only one case of diphtheria has been reported to CDC since 2004.
- An epidemic of rubella (German measles) in 1964-65 infected 12.5 million Americans, killed 2,000 babies, and caused 11,000 miscarriages. In 2012, 9 cases of rubella were reported to CDC.
If you think this is hyperbole, remember that we effectively eliminated measles in the United States in 2000, yet, since 2014, we have experienced a resurgent number of measles cases, largely among people who were unvaccinated.
In our recent report, Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, we found that just 10 states vaccinated at least half of their population against the seasonal flu.
We like to use this as a bit of a proxy indicator. Basically, if we can’t vaccine a large portion of the population for something that is more or less the norm, what are the odds we could quickly vaccinate a majority of the population during a pandemic. For example, if there was a vaccine for Zika, would the nation been able to dispense it?
Another lesson we can draw from vaccination rates: when we become complacent, our preparedness suffers. We can’t let vaccine complacency continue. To improve vaccination rates, TFAH’s report included policy recommendations such as: Read more…
Every state needs a local source for parents to get immunization information they can trust. In addition to state health departments, many states have immunization coalitions, immunization program managers and various public health professionals that help to ensure that parents get the vaccine information and access they need to keep their families healthy.
In Maine for instance, public health advocates and policy makers understand that less than optimal vaccination rates are impacting the health of the state through disease outbreaks, missed school, hospitalizations and even, in some cases, death. Unfortunately, the state of Maine has been ranked as having one of the highest rates of whooping cough infections and unvaccinated kindergartners in the nation. However, through the work of dedicated public health professionals like Cassandra Grantham, the Maine Childhood Immunization Champion Award recipient, the state is making great strides at addressing these concerns.
Cassandra was born and raised in Maine. She loves her state and its people, and she is determined to help prevent the spread of disease in Maine communities. As the parent of two children, Cassandra realizes that fellow Maine parents just want to do what’s best for their children. That is why she has made it both a personal and professional priority to ensure that parents have access to scientifically accurate information about vaccines so that they can make well-informed immunization decisions for themselves and their children.
As Program Director of Child Health at MaineHealth, a not-for-profit healthcare system serving 11 of Maine’s 16 counties, as well as co-chair of the Maine Immunization Coalition, Cassandra has served as the backbone of the state’s immunization programs since 2010.
Over the past few years she has launched several educational initiatives, such as the creation of the Vax Maine Kids website, the Vax Maine Kids Facebook page and the Vax Maine Kids blog which addresses a various childhood health topics ranging from safe sleep to immunizations. She even launched the Kohl’s Vax Kids program, designed to increase immunization awareness among parents who are most likely to delay or skip their child’s vaccinations. Read more…
As people across the nation are getting ready to celebrate Independence Day, I’m reminded of how grateful I am to live in a country that values freedom. As a citizen of the United States, I’m encouraged to participate in our democracy, I’m granted various protections, and I benefit from our nation’s investment in public health. While our democracy is far from perfect, I do believe that great efforts are made to keep Americans safe and healthy – despite the fact that some people would rather live recklessly and dangerously.
When looking back upon the history of our nation’s immunization policies, we get a glimpse of both the good and the bad. In a recent op-ed in Politico entitled “How Congress Brought the Measles Back“, Sarah Despres explains how Congressional actions have negatively influenced public opinion regarding immunizations in a way that has continued to interfere with good public health practices. On the flip side we also hear stories about people like Andy Marso, a passionate meningitis survivor who has been instrumental in advocating for state legislation that will help protect college students from a devastating disease that almost cost him his life. The point is that while our democracy and our public health programs are far from perfect, we have the ability to exercise our voice in the legislation that governs our nation’s policies.
We won’t always agree on what’s best, but when the discussion turns to vaccine choice some people feel strongly that they should not be “forced” to vaccinate either themselves or their children. They argue that such government requirements interfere with their individual freedoms. Admittedly, I get a bit upset when I read such statements.
While I believe vaccines are the best way to protect from dangerous and deadly diseases, I also believe that people should have a say about their medical choices. However, to say that people are “forced” to vaccinate is grossly inaccurate. By exaggerating this claim, vaccine refusers are simply trying to garner support from a larger audience who wish to oppose any government intervention in their lives, regardless of any benefit it may provide to the masses. Unfortunately, they fail to realize how vital this protection has been and how much death and suffering has been avoided because of the policies they so vehemently oppose.
The truth is that we all have choices. Read more…
Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a press conference to announce the many enormous benefits of the Vaccines For Children program. In the 20 years since the program began, hospitalizations and lives saved through vaccination have resulted in a $295 billion savings in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs. Additionally, the CDC estimates that vaccinations among the children born over the last 20 years will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths.
In an effort to thank the members of Congress who enacted the important legislation that led to the creation of the Vaccines For Children program 20 years ago, Every Child By Two founders, Rosalynn Carter and Betty Bumpers, sent the following letter to the members of Congress, thanking them for their continued support and encouraging them to attend a special event at the Capitol Visitor Center today, to view the student documentary Invisible Threat and to talk with a special panel of immunization experts.
We are writing to you as the co-founders of Every Child By Two (ECBT) to urge your continued support of vaccinations. We founded ECBT in 1991 to protect all children from vaccine-preventable diseases by raising parental awareness of the need for timely immunizations, fostering a systematic method to locate and immunize children, and providing convenient access to immunization services into the future.
Three years later, in 1994, Congress established the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program to remove financial barriers for parents unable to afford vaccinations for their children. In addition, the VFC has been instrumental in ensuring that children receive all their needed vaccines by enrolling nearly 44,000 private vaccination providers. Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in the years since the VFC was established by Congress children have been spared from more than 322 million illnesses and 732,000 deaths. This has saved our country over $1 trillion dollars in societal costs.
We are truly grateful to Congress for establishing the VFC program, and we hope that you will continue your support of vaccines. We would also like to invite you to attend a special event hosted by ECBT and the Immunization Coalition of Washington, D.C. On May 1st at 10 a.m. in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Room CVC-268 we will host the national launch of the documentary film Invisible Threat.
Invisible Threat fosters understanding of the science of vaccinations and the misperceptions leading parents to delay or decline life-saving immunizations for their children. This outstanding 40-minute documentary was produced by award-winning high school student filmmakers and has earned praise from more than 50 organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Mayo Clinic.
We encourage you to attend this limited-seating event, where you will have the opportunity to ask questions of our esteemed panel of experts, including Dr. Melinda Wharton of the CDC, Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Every Child By Two spokesperson/actor Amanda Peet. To watch a preview of the film please visit http://vimeo.com/64521691
Former US First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Former First Lady of Arkansas/wife of Senator Dale Bumpers Betty Bumpers
Founders, Every Child by Two
What do pop culture and educational entertainment have to do with infectious diseases and vaccines?
Well, they just may be the key to unlocking the passion of future epidemiologists.
As a parent with several science-minded children, I was thrilled to download a clever new iPad app from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Solve the Outbreak” is a fun and interactive game where the player receives clues and analyzes data in order to solve the case and save lives. In other words, this free app let’s you become a Disease Detective. Of course, you start out as a Trainee, but with hard work and determination you can begin solving cases that earn you badges on the way to the ultimate title of Disease Detective. Along the way, you’ll have to decide – do you quarantine the village, talk to people who are sick or ask for more lab results?
The CDC’s real-life Disease Detectives are the people who work 24/7 on the front lines of public health to save lives and protect people. What many people don’t realize is that new outbreaks are occurring every day. By engaging in this game, there is hope that players will not only learn about diseases, but they will gain an appreciation for what it takes to contain an outbreak.
And let’s face it. When I read comments from people who are currently choosing not to vaccinate, I realize that they often lack critical reading and comprehension skills that could help them understand that the benefits far outweigh the risks when it comes to getting our immunizations. Unfortunately, not everyone is familiar with the scientific method and many people misinterpret the findings of current immunization research. And with both education and public health budget cuts on the horizon, it’s clear that it is going to take some creativity and ingenuity to attract students who are genuinely interested in pursuing a profession that pertains to science and public health.
“We look at this as an engaging opportunity to educate young people to how public health actually works and hopefully to draw some future epidemiologists,”
CDC Director, Tom Frieden adds,
“The goal is to use new technology to provide an engaging, interactive way for users to learn how CDC solves outbreaks, thereby increasing general knowledge about real-life public health issues. This application allows us to illustrate the challenges of solving outbreaks and how our disease detectives work on the front lines to save lives and protect people 24/7.”
So why not see if you have what it takes to be a Disease Detective. Download the app for free here and share it with others in your life. You can even post your scores on Facebook or Twitter and challenge your friends to do better! Hopefully your happy gaming days will lead to a greater appreciation for better public health.
For a list of additional resources that can be used to teach children and teens about infectious diseases, check out the CDC website.
Last month, in a post entitled The Villian is a Virus, I wrote about an event I attended in which a special panel of experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided an inside perspective on the science behind the movie Contagion. The truth is, just as the organization is portrayed in the movie, the CDC remains constantly vigilant in their efforts to protect us from dangerous health threats that occur not only in this country, but well beyond our nation’s borders.
Sadly, our media reality happens to be, “It’s only news when someone is hurt or killed.” This may explain why the Contagion story-line was even developed as a major motion picture. Interestingly enough, at this behind-the-scenes event, I was able to get a glimpse of all the incidents that are so routinely avoided. Unfortunately, it’s hard to generate interest about something that’s been prevented. After all, if it never happened, how could it be newsworthy?
However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try out best to recognize our successes. How many times have we been able to contain a dangerous disease? How many vaccines do we now have that protect against diseases that often afflicted children in the generations before us? And how many lives have been sparred because of them?
If you are looking to hear a bit of reality, and not just Hollywood hype, I encourage you to check out the video below. It highlights the frank conversation between a curious crowd of typical movie-goers and a panel of public health experts. In this video, CDC Director Tom Frieden is joined by Dr. Ali Khan who is currently the Director of CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Dr. Anne Schuchat who serves as the Director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, to speak about their real-life experiences in investigating dangerous and deadly diseases. Their personal contributions serve as an excellent reminder of why we should remain vigilant in our efforts to protect our nation’s public health.
Even though interest in the movie Contagion has already faded, the possibility of some contagious disease gaining Hollywood-worthy headlines remains. In fact, it’s often just a plane ride away. While that may be frightening to consider, it’s important that we continue to applaud the work that is being done to ensure good public health, whether that be by promoting diligent handwashing, covering our coughs or vaccinating ourselves and our children. We all share this one world and like it or not, that means we are all somehow connected. Contagions and all.
This year, we’ve seen an alarming rise in measles cases in the US compared to years past.
When I see an alert go out to the public regarding an outbreak, I’m always fascinated that it details the exact location where people may have been exposed. Measles cases happen more frequently that most people may be aware. Take for instance, last month’s case of an infected Amtrak train passenger who traveled from VA to Boston. Or the case earlier in the year, of an unimmunized women who contracted measles prior to traveling through four different airports during her two-day return from London. And then there’s the case of a French consulate worker in Boston, who exposed coworkers, mass transit passengers and even others in her apartment complex. Maybe you are familiar with these. Maybe not.
In the case of measles, an official alert is critical because the highly contagious airborne virus can live on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours. The CDC explains that “if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected”. And what makes containing measles so challenging is that it can be spread to others from four days before, to four days after, the rash appears. This is why it requires such a concentrated effort on the part of doctors and public health employees to contain the spread of diseases such as measles. And often these efforts are completed without any acknowledgment from the general public.
For instance, just this week state health officials are crediting an emergency room physician with helping to contain a measles outbreak in Indiana by correctly diagnosing five family members. There is no doubt that without proper identification of this contagious disease on the part of the physician, there would not be an adequate and timely response to contain the virus, which could ultimately have resulted in more people falling ill. In this case, the five family members that were diagnosed with measles could have easily gone on to infect many others. Read more…