We ve said it many times in the past, and we ll say it again vaccines are a true public health miracle, banishing diseases from diphtheria to polio, which have killed hundreds of thousands in global epidemics. Three recent stories in the news serve to underscore vaccines value.
In a much-anticipated move, the World Health Organization (WHO) hasdeclared India to be polio-free, since there have been no new cases of the disease in the past 3 years. A decade ago, India was one one the few countries in the world where the paralyzing virus was still rampant. But a concerted effort by the government to dispel fears and provide public health workers to vaccinate millions of children finally eradicated the disease.
Next, a recent study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases by Dr. Jill Ferdinands of the CDC and colleagues explored the effect of flu vaccine on serious complications in children admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Over the course of two flu seasons (2010-2011 and 2011-2012) researchers found that among children admitted to the PICU with severe respiratory illness only 18 percent were fully vaccinated, while of the children in the PICU because of non-flu illnesses 31 percent were fully vaccinated. After accounting for a range of confounding factors, they estimated a 75 percent effectiveness in preventing PICU admission for confirmed influenza. Of course, children admitted to the PICU are those most at risk of severe complications, including death. Thus, reducing these types of cases is an important goal, over and above the general reduction in influenza in the population at large. This study shows that flu vaccination reduces the risk of the most severe infections, even more so than the common flu.
And finally, in a hard-hittingessay in The New York Times, ACSH Trustee Dr. Paul Offit, who is also Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases and Director, Vaccine Education Center, at the Children s Hospital of Philadelphia, notes that the measles vaccine has become a victim of its own success. He describes how [i]n 1963, when the vaccine first came into existence, the measles virus infected about three million people a year in the United States, hospitalized 48,000 and killed 500. By 2000, there were virtually no measles infections in the United States. But the reluctance of some parents at least partly based on false reports of connections to autism to vaccinate their children has been largely responsible for a resurgence of the disease.
There were nearly 200 cases reported in 2013, he notes. Yet another problem has been that many healthcare workers have never seen a case of the measles, and so are not as quick as they should be to isolate virus carriers and measles is a highly contagious virus that is easily spread by airborne droplets. One means of fighting this upward trend in cases, Dr. Offit proposes, is to make it more difficult for parents to obtain non-medical exemptions from vaccinations. Concurrently, we must educate (or perhaps re-educate) doctors and parents about what a measles rash looks like, to enable more rapid and accurate diagnosis.
The bottom line here, comments ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross, is that there really is no doubt about the overwhelming efficacy and importance of vaccines. We must make the acceptance of vaccination a high priority public health issue and work to improve parents understanding of its value.