This Is the Truth About Vaccines
Deadly diseases that should be seen only in history books are showing up in our emergency rooms.
By Brett P. Giroir, Robert R. Redfield and Jerome M. Adams
Admiral Giroir is the assistant secretary for Health and Human Services. Dr. Redfield is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vice Admiral Adams is the surgeon general.
March 6, 2019
Image Source/Getty Images
Vaccinations save lives, protect our children and are one of our greatest public health achievements. As public health officials, our role is to advance the health of the American people. This must include championing vaccinations.
Diseases like polio, measles, diphtheria and rubella were once common in the United States, afflicting hundreds of thousands of infants, children and adults, and killing thousands each year. Some older Americans may remember the fear associated with polio outbreaks and the era of iron lungs and leg braces — a time when swimming pools and movie theaters closed over concerns about the spread of the crippling disease. Others may recall the heartbreaking wave of rubella in the 1960s that resulted in thousands of newborn deaths, with thousands more born blind, deaf or with other lifelong disabilities.
We cannot let America be faced with these fears again. For those of us who have treated critically ill children with vaccine-preventable diseases, we know firsthand the devastation to the child — and to the family and community — of a death, limb amputation or severe brain damage that could have been avoided by a simple vaccination.
Modern vaccines are highly effective and safe, with most serious side effects being exceptionally rare — and much less serious than contracting the actual disease. But misinformation about vaccines is still widely reported, so we feel it is crucial to state clearly and unambiguously: Vaccines do not cause autism and they do not contain toxic chemicals. That fact was demonstrated again this week in a new study on MMR vaccination by Danish researchers.
In part because vaccines have been so successful, clinicians practicing in the United States today may have never seen a patient with polio, or treated a child with measles or bacterial meningitis, and parents may not realize how severe and potentially life-threatening these diseases can be.
Consider measles. The World Health Organization estimates that measles vaccination prevented more than 21 million deaths worldwide since 2000. Although routine childhood vaccination for measles remains high in the United States (greater than 91 percent for preschool children), localized dips in vaccination coverage have resulted in a recent resurgence of measles in parts of the country. A total of 17 measles outbreaks affecting more than 370 individuals have been confirmed in 2018 alone, and 10 states are already reporting cases this year. Unfortunately, many more communities are at risk for outbreaks because of areas with low vaccine coverage.
Influenza continues to severely affect our families. In the last flu season of 2017-18, about 80,000 Americans died from the disease. Scores of them were children who had not been vaccinated. Yet, early season vaccination rates remain below 50 percent for both adults and children. The flu vaccine is the best way to avoid getting the disease, and those who do fall ill are less likely to develop severe flu symptoms that lead to hospitalization or death.
The list goes on. In 2017, only 49 percent of American adolescentsreceived all of the recommended doses of the HPV vaccine, which is the best way to protect both males and females from developing certain cancers — including cervical, anal, mouth and throat cancers. One in five teenagers — approximately 4.5 million people — have not received the vaccination for the contagious form of bacterial meningitis, even though the swift-moving disease can leave an otherwise healthy child facing amputation, organ failure or death within 24 hours of onset.
And the nation is experiencing a multistate outbreak of hepatitis A, especially among people who use drugs or experience homelessness. Yet the disease — which can lead to liver failure and death — can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.
We cannot be complacent. The recent measles outbreaks are a reminder that diseases that we might have thought had become rare in the United States are still infecting unvaccinated people, sometimes with dire consequences: Children with measles can develop fatal complications. These diseases should be seen only in history books — not in our emergency rooms.
We are committed to countering the misinformation that fuels anti-vaccine sentiment among parents and legislators who are earnestly trying to protect their children and the public. Science that sits on the shelf has no value. We must take advantage of the lifesaving tools we have to protect our nation’s most vulnerable.
Our children, and our children’s children, have the opportunity to grow up in a world that is free from polio, measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. We must work together to make this a reality.