Vaccines key part of Preventive Health Month
Army Col. Margaret Yacovone, Chief, Defense Health Agency-Immunization Healthcare Branch
ABout a year ago, a young man heading to Pakistan came to my travel clinic. I recommended the polio vaccine, but he wanted to decline. I asked him what he thought would happen if he came down with the disease. He figured he’d get some kind of cough. Imagine his shock when I told him he could become paralyzed, or because infected people don’t always show symptoms, he could unknowingly bring the disease back to his family and friends in the United States.
Until the 1950s, polio not only paralyzed thousands of people in the U.S. and around the world, it killed many. Now polio is rare thanks to worldwide immunization efforts. During Preventive Health Month, let’s consider how important immunizations are in preventing some of our worst diseases.
Immunizations are our top public health achievement of the 20th century. Routine vaccinations have saved more lives throughout the world than any other medical invention. They drastically reduced the prevalence of many diseases, and even eradicated some, such as smallpox. Though polio isn’t fully wiped out, we’re getting closer every day. Today, immunizations, such as those for hepatitis B and the human papillomavirus, are helping with the elimination of some cancers. Along with preventive services and health screenings, getting immunized is our best defense against many serious illnesses and preventable diseases.
Vaccinations protect more than the people who receive them. The spread of disease is limited when a large percentage of the community is immunized. For example, infants who are too young to get certain vaccinations rely on the immunity of others to prevent the spread of disease to them. This is known as “herd immunity,” or “community immunity.” Between 80 and 95 percent of the community must be vaccinated for herd immunity to be helpful.
In recent years, a vaccine-hesitancy movement has seen well-intentioned parents avoid immunizing their children, and this has led to several large outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases abroad and in the U.S. Before we had vaccinations available for certain diseases such as meningitis, I witnessed children suffer and die from these devastating contagious diseases. Now we have preventive measures available, and not everyone is taking advantage of the opportunity. Our organization, DHA IHB, is piloting programs to help providers listen to the concerns of vaccine-hesitant parents and help them make the best-informed decisions.
No matter what your age, there are immunizations recommended to help protect you. Those with certain medical conditions or occupations or those who plan foreign travel might require additional immunizations. The nature of our mobile military means our families as well as our active-duty service members are exposed to diseases unheard of in the U.S. but endemic to certain overseas areas where we work and live. The importance of receiving recommended immunizations and getting regular updates through adulthood is key to making sure that you and your family stay healthy. It’s for everyone’s good.
Discuss recommended immunizations with your provider and visit our website, www.health.mil/vaccines, for more information on vaccines. Also, please join the discussion on "Lifetime Benefits of Immunization" during the DHA-IHB Facebook Town Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, from 1-2 pm.