Here at The Public’s Health we have not hidden the fact that we see vaccination as one of the great public health success stories of the 20th century, and hope that vaccines continue to have a similar benefit in the 21st. The effectiveness and safety of vaccination is well documented: many vaccine-preventable diseases from polio to measles to mumps have either largely been controlled or, in the case of smallpox, eradicated from planet earth. Risks from immunization are generally minor, but in very rare cases can be serious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a detailed explanation of vaccine-related risks on its website for all vaccines licensed for use in the United States. Your doctor or pediatrician should discuss these risks with you.
Even if you have doubts about vaccination, however, we hope that you continue to read and engage in dialog with us on vaccine-related issues. While our opinions are strong, we are sensitive to the myriad historical and personal reasons why different people come to oppose vaccination.
A post on this blog a few weeks back helped to expose a subtle but powerful anti-flu vaccine ad sponsored by the National Vaccine Information Center, an advocacy group, that was running on the in-flight entertainment system at Delta Airlines. (The link has been taken down, but NVIC is still featuring the video, which doesn't so much criticize vaccines as overemphasize every other conceivable form of protection.) The Public’s Health was one of the first news sources to cover the story. As coverage expanded - and criticism from the medical community grew - Delta issued a half-hearted apology for the fiasco. The airline claimed that while “the views represented in the PSA do not necessarily match those of Delta, we recognize that we have a responsibility to our customers to ensure all programming is relevant, accurate and does not lend itself to interpretation.”
Really? Do not necessarily match those of Delta? Does not lend itself to interpretation? Is Delta hedging on whether it is the anti-vaccine airline? Perhaps this is an underappreciated niche market that Delta is cultivating. I can see the new slogan now: “Keep Climbing In The Unvaccinated, Disease-Ridden Skies.” An ad campaign could illustrate the benefits of non-vaccination by showing a planeload of passengers with influenza, polio, measles, chicken pox, diphtheria, mumps, rubella, and hepatitis A and B, among others. Wouldn’t you want to "Keep Climbing," as Delta's official motto says, in those planes?
As penance, we at The Public’s Health propose that Delta help the CDC promote National Influenza Vaccination Week, a government-sponsored flu shot-awareness campaign that’s been running now. Among the messages of the campaign are that people at high risk of serious complications from influenza—the young, the old, pregnant women, and those with chronic health conditions—should get vaccinated, and that children aged 6 months through 8 years should received two doses of this years vaccine, given 4 weeks apart.
The Department of Health and Human Services, of which the CDC is a part, is working with its 10 regional offices to promote the campaign. Dr. Dalton Paxman, the Regional Health Administrator for Region III (Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) calls attention to some of this week's hurdles. “Our data show that people believe that once the holiday season has passed, that it’s too late to get the flu vaccine,” Paxman told me from his Philadelphia office. This is not the case. Influenza activity nationwide is still sporadic. Generally, flu season peaks in late winter, so if you have not gotten a shot, there is still time.
Paxman’s office is also working with faith-based and community organizations to work to try to redress disparities in vaccination rates between racial and ethnic groups in the region.
Finally, I asked Paxman about recent data that showed seasonal flu vaccine to be only 60% effective against the virus. He acknowledged that it isn’t 100%. But he and other public health practitioners around the world agree that seasonal influenza vaccine “offers the best protection we have against this serious disease.”
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