Measles is making a comeback, with a 20-year high in reported infections, due mostly to folks who are opting out of the vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Across the nation, an epidemic of whooping cough in California, outbreaks of chickenpox in Indiana and measles in Ohio have made national headlines.
In many cases, the anti-vaccine movement is persuading parents not to vaccinate their children — that’s causing a lot of harm to at-risk children and adults who are susceptible to these preventable diseases. So before you refuse (or skip) a vaccination, get the facts from us.
Myth No. 1: Vaccines do more harm than good.
Vaccine fact: Vaccines save lives. We’re not saying vaccines are risk-free, but the ratio of serious adverse reactions to beneficial effect is about 1 to 40,000.
Before pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines were available in the 1940s, an estimated 200,000 children were infected annually, and 9,000 died. Before there was a measles vaccine, up to 4 million Americans a year were infected: 1,000 suffered brain damage or hearing loss and 450 died. Diphtheria killed 15,000 Americans in one year (1921) before there was a vaccine. During a pre-vaccine rubella (German measles) outbreak in the 1960s, 2,000 babies died and 11,000 pregnant women had miscarriages.
Another vaccine benefit: If you and your children are inoculated, you’re protecting others who can’t be due to a compromised immune system or age. Case in point: Infants receive their first of two measles vaccinations between 12-15 months and their first of four pertussis inoculation shots starting at 2 months. Until those kick in, they are at risk for infection, when these diseases can be most dangerous.
Your next step: Review your own and your child’s vaccination needs. Discuss your concerns with your doctor, and schedule needed shots.
Myth No. 2: Vaccines are just for kids.
Vaccine fact: Adults need them, too! About 40 percent of people over age 65 haven’t received a pneumonia vaccine, and 85 percent are missing out on the shingles vaccine, which protects against excruciating nerve pain. A whopping 86 percent of adults haven’t had their TDAP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) booster (recommended every 10 years), and 87 percent haven’t had a hepatitis A booster, while 65 percent skip the hepatitis B vaccine. Plenty of teens and young adults are missing out on the meningococcal vaccine (plus a booster shot), which can prevent 80 percent of meningitis cases (a potentially fatal bacterial infection), and about 65 percent of young women and 95 percent of young men ages 19-26 haven’t gotten the HPV vaccine, proven to slash risk for infections that cause many cases of throat cancer and most cervical cancer.
Your next step: Check out payment options. Thanks to Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, most vaccines are covered for adults. Ask your doc which shots will give you or a loved one more benefits than risk and then get it done.
Myth No. 3: September is too soon to think about a flu shot.
Vaccine fact: It’s best to get your influenza vaccine in September or October. It takes about two weeks for your body to build up defenses against the virus once you get the vaccine. So a shot in September is just in time for the start of flu season in October. You’ll cut your risk for the flu by about 60 percent and reduce your odds for a heart attack or stroke during flu season by 50 percent. If flu strikes anyway, it’s milder, cutting the odds for complications that lead to hospital visits by more than 70 percent. Pregnant women who get a flu shot pass on some immunity to the fetus.
Your next step: Contact your doctor to reserve your dose or ask your pharmacist when the new batch will be available.
You’ll be hearing more about vaccines that work against various cancers, including melanoma and liver cancer. Stay tuned, and when new vaccines are developed, talk to your doc about when to put them on your schedule.