Overheard at my last doctor’s appointment: “Well apparently getting my kids their flu shots was a total waste of time. They are both sick. It really makes me wonder if any of these shots the doctor says we need actually do anything.” You should have seen how fast my head whipped around when I heard that! I have read a great deal of blogs and articles lately that discuss the “ineffectiveness” of the flu vaccine, some even citing “good hygiene” as the most effective method of preventing the spread of the virus. While I do advocate for good hand washing that is certainly not enough. In terms of the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) openly states that “this season’s vaccine so far is reducing the risk of having to go to the doctor for influenza by about 60% for vaccinated people.” By no means do they, or any other medical professional, claim that you get 100% satisfaction guarantee if you receive your annual flu vaccine. Never have, never will. So why vaccinate against the flu? Even with the vaccines “moderate effectiveness” vaccinated individuals have been shown to have a reduction in “flu-related illness, antibiotic use, time lost from work, hospitalizations, and death.”
But enough about the flu; we have be inundated (and rightfully so) with this year’s flu stats, why you should receive your vaccine, where to go to get it, and on and on. What I really want to talk about is the comment I heard today. It’s disturbing. Immunizations are the “cornerstone of preventative health.” Dare I even say the most “successful public health program of the 20thcentury?” If we want to prevent (and hopefully eradicate) a long list of vaccine-preventable diseases we have to continue to vaccinate. For all the skeptics who doubt the power of immunization think about this. What happened to all the cases of smallpox; a disease that once claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 children per year? It was completely eradicated in 1977 thanks to the smallpox vaccine. Why don’t we hear about iron lungs and paralytic polio anymore? That’s because this disease, which claimed approximately 1,900 lives in a matter of 3 years, was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 1991. I think it’s safe to say that the little bottles of Purell we carry on our key chains are not the reason for its absence in our community. Vaccines are the reason we don’t shut down swimming pools to prevent the spread of polio. It’s true that there are a few cases where children don’t respond to a vaccine, but depending on which study is being cited, “childhood vaccines are 85% to 98% effective.” When you consider the rate of infection of some of these illnesses prior to the availability of vaccines those numbers are beyond remarkable.
Whether we are talking about the flu, chickenpox, meningitis, or any of the other vaccine-preventable diseases, immunization is to thank for the reduction in numbers and severity. If you think people panicked during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, just imagine the fear that would ensue if we added a list of now preventable diseases that once claimed the lives of thousands each year. Vaccines are the most safe and effective way to protect ourselves and those around us from vaccine-preventable diseases. Taking the time to get vaccinated is never a waste of time. And don’t forget that in a world without vaccines, satisfaction would never be guaranteed!