I wanted to switch things up a bit and put out an article about a medical/social issue by guest blogger April Young Bennett of Voices for Utah Children. Today’s topic? A case for vaccinate your child. Read on to learn more about this important issue.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet on June 24 to consider adding Meningitis B vaccine to the list of recommended youth vaccinations. This disease kills 10-15% of the people infected, and other victims may suffer serious consequences, such as the loss of limbs, nervous system problems, deafness, brain damage and seizures or strokes. Widespread vaccination could prevent outbreaks like the recent outbreak at the University of Oregon (UO) where a student died and six other contracted the disease. Similar outbreaks have taken place at other campuses, such as Ohio University and Princeton. A positive recommendation for youth vaccinations for Meningitis would mean that insurance companies not already covering it will be more likely to do so. This is excellent news!
Widespread vaccination campaigns have a proven track record for preventing deadly disease. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization made an exciting announcement: Rubella, a disease that causes miscarriages and severe birth defects, has been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere thanks to immunization. Similar success was achieved in at eliminating smallpox from the Americas in 1971 and polio in 1994.
We’re Still At Risk
In today’s mobile society, however, diseases are only a plane ride away. Endemic measles was also eliminated from the hemisphere in 2002 but has since returned, as groups of parents living in the same communities have chosen not to vaccinate. In 2011, for example, an unvaccinated high school student returned to Salt Lake City from a trip to Europe infected with measles, and the disease spread. To control the outbreak, 184 people were quarantined, and approximately $300,000 was spent on infection control measures by local hospitals and health departments.
When people are immunized, they do not spread disease to others such as infants who are too young to be vaccinated and children with health issues that preclude vaccination. These vulnerable children depend on those around them to keep them safe from disease.
In December 2014, an outbreak of measles started in Disneyland and led to measles cases across the country, including Utah. Disneyland is a popular tourist destination for families with very small children, including babies too young for vaccination. It is also one of the most popular vacation destinations for children in the Make-a-Wish program, many of whom are too medically fragile to be immunized.
During the 2014 Disneyland outbreak, one mother wrote about what she described as “a nightmare our family is going through.” She took her baby, who was too young to be immunized, to the doctor on the same day that an older, unvaccinated child was diagnosed with measles at her doctor’s office. She wrote:
“Our LO got three intramuscular shots of immunoglobulin to lessen the effects of the measles were she to contract it, but this will not prevent her from contracting the disease. However, because the measles is SO contagious, today we received a call from our county’s infectious disease control team requesting us voluntarily to quarantine our LO for the entire incubation period of the measles, which of course will do because we don’t want anyone else’s babies to get sick. However the incubation period is 28 days, so now either my husband or I will have to be off work at home with our LO for the remainder of the month, which is a huge financial hardship, especially since we have to continue to pay our daycare.”
Utah’s Under-vaccination Problem
More Utah parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, and so it is not surprising that we are seeing a rise in vaccine-preventable diseases in Utah. Utah County is of particular concern because a large number of children reside there and vaccination rates are low. Of Utah County schools, 43% are under-vaccinated. In comparison, only 14% of schools in Salt Lake County are under-vaccinated. Vaccination is required before Kindergarten and 7th grade, but Utah parents may claim exemptions for personal, medical or religious reasons; 95% of exemptions are for personal reasons.
The good news for parents who want to protect their own children (as well as the unvaccinated infants and medically fragile children in their communities) is that more vaccines are available than ever before. For the first time, Meningitis A will be included among the requisite vaccines for Utah 7th graders during the upcoming school year. While Meningitis B vaccine is not required for school entry, it is also available. Ask your doctor for both vaccines and keep your teens safe from this deadly disease.
Please share this information and help get the word out about how vaccinations prevent disease for not only your child, but for others as well!