The best way to improve overall public health is to keep people from getting sick in the first place. Immunizations do a great job of preventing epidemics of dangerous diseases such as measles, mumps and polio that used to regularly sweep through communities.
People who are not immunized put not only themselves at risk, but also increase the danger for others, including newborns.
Safety In Numbers Isn't Good Enough
Some people mistakenly believe that they do not need to vaccinate their children because so many other people have had their immunizations. It's called relying on "herd immunity," and is only effective when nearly all of the other community members are immune. But hundreds of thousands of people don't have full immunity because they cannot receive certain vaccinations (including HIV patients, young babies who are not yet fully vaccinated, people undergoing chemotherapy, children on steroids for asthma and others).
Parents must be educated about the risk of succumbing to a false sense of security that is common when disease outbreaks are rare. It is important to note that the bacteria and viruses that cause these diseases still exist, and it is only by working together that they are kept at bay.
It is important to remember that in our increasingly mobile society, diseases are just a plane ride away. When people lose their commitment to universal vaccinations, regions can experience resurgences of preventable diseases.
So far in 2013, over 160 individuals have contracted measles, most of whom were unvaccinated. Forty-two importations were reported from foreign countries including the European Region (which has recorded high exemption rates from measles vaccine due to false reports that the vaccine could cause autism). 220 people were infected with measles in 2011 and in 2008 140 cases of measles were reported in the U.S. Outbreaks that required massive control efforts in Arizona, California and elsewhere were again traced to travel to and from Western Europe. This alarming outbreak trend is evidence of the need to ensure that young children receive their vaccines on time. However since measles vaccine is not administered until twelve months of age, it is critical that all children and adults protect these vulnerable infants until they can be fully protected through vaccination themselves.
Vaccinated Yet Vulnerable
While vaccines are very effective at preventing disease, no medication is 100 percent effective. Fortunately, most people who get vaccinated do get full protection from disease. However, a very small percentage of people who are vaccinated may not attain full immunity from the disease and may still be vulnerable if exposed.
Just as you count on others not to knowingly expose you to dangerous illnesses, they rely on you. We must each do our parts to limit everyone's exposure, and that means getting vaccinated on time, every time.