As people’s accessibility to a plethora of information grows — thanks in most part to the internet — so does the amount of exposure to misinformation. Well-meaning parents are often inundated with so many articles, opinions, and “facts” in regards to children’s health that sometimes they end up not knowing who or what they can trust.
Much like we try to protect our family members from becoming victims of cyberscams or financial fraud online, we should be making an effort to protect them from fraudulent or misleading ideas involving public health that is found on the internet as well. Learning more about vaccines and narrowing down the facts is a great place to start to understand their importance and place within our communities.
Dispelling the “Facts”
Being able to connect to a world of information, experiences, and suggestions with just a few clicks of a mouse is undoubtedly a significant technological accomplishment and has paved the way for more useful, valuable connections. It’s also interesting to note that in this digital age, Americans are reading more than ever before thanks to the endless opportunities to research a question or idea and find the answers within minutes — making it much easier to learn about new topics and issues. However, as helpful as the internet can be at times, it’s also presented the population with many more chances to become victims of cybercrimes and fall into a trap of false (often harmful) misinformation.
Perhaps because of the sheer size of the internet, the credible sources of information can often become crowded, if not completely overshadowed by scams and unqualified individuals looking to make a profit by any means necessary. While there is often recourse in situations involving cybercrimes, there isn’t any remedy when it comes to your child’s health should they fall victim to a preventable disease.
Furthermore, there is a severe lack of protection against the spread of vaccine misinformation because, for the most part, we aren’t able to police what is being said on the internet. When an outlandish claim begins circulating the internet, the only people we can rely on to dispel these false statements is ourselves.
For example, vaccines have become one of those hot topics where the divide on their effectiveness and usefulness is becoming more and more distinct amongst parents and others, despite the fact that the information swaying people is often incorrect and blatantly wrong. As such, to help inform future and current parents, it’s time to address the spread of immunization misinformation and promote the facts and importance of vaccines to the public’s health.
The Costs of Vaccines (& How They Can Improve)
The number of vaccines — new and old — have been growing exponentially to keep up with growths in population and emerging diseases. As such, their cost is also on the rise. As the World Health Organization reported, vaccines have tripled in value, increasing from $5 billion in 2000 to almost $24 billion in 2013. So, why the price increase?
Many companies who produce highly effective vaccines often have a monopoly on the market. Take for example Prevnar 13; it’s effective against 13 strains and is highly regarded amongst medical professionals. However, the company has increased the price by 6 percent every year. Even new formulations of old vaccines are hitting the market at a much higher price.
Immunizations are often the largest overhead cost for pediatric practices, especially for solo practices. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, patients aren’t required to pay out of pocket for important vaccines, but insurance companies often fail to properly reimburse medical practices for each vaccination, meaning physicians often lose money from immunizing their patients.
However, there is hope. Some experts believe change needs to happen at a legislation level. As NPR reported, “One solution would be to have federal elected officials draw the line and simply ask The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to apply it.” With that in mind, starting this important conversation about how much is too much for vaccines will be the first step in looking towards a more affordable market.
It’s Time to Trust Change
According to the experts at the University of Southern California, “Each year, save tens of thousands of children’s lives. They also help to eliminate diseases and can prevent chronic diseases. By preventing disease, vaccines save billions of dollars every year in health care costs, especially since preventing disease is better for people than merely treating diseases. Vaccines clearly play a large role in today’s society, but the most important vaccines can change from year to year.” Considering vaccines are constantly evolving, it’s easy for the wrong information to fuel skepticism towards these often life-saving vaccinations.
An interesting fact to keep in mind, however, is that some vaccines need to keep changing and adapting as many diseases also appear differently year to year. Take, for example, the influenza virus. There are several different influenza vaccines that circulate each year because, “different strains of the flu virus may be prominent each year.” The medical field has to constantly keep up with the changes in viruses, diseases, immune systems, and more.
So, despite the importance of getting these vaccines each year, many of them — such as the pneumococcal and influenza vaccine — are greatly underutilized by the public, despite the vital importance they play in the health of our families and the general public. With that being said, it’s important to realize that even though our healthcare advancements have come a long way, we are not completely invincible, and diseases like influenza can still rob many of us of life.
In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has mentioned that there has been an increase of influenza cases during 2017-2018. It’s also worth noting that children and seniors are especially susceptible to influenza and its deadly effects. In fact, according to the CDC, just within the beginning of 2018, 30 children have passed away because of the influenza virus.
With that in mind, they recommend, “everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season.” With every changing season come more chances for you and your family to fall extremely ill. However, vaccines can help lower your family’s risk of contracting diseases such as MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and other life-threatening diseases that can pop up in communities unexpectedly.
The Two-Dose Vaccine System
An extremely common disease, chickenpox, caused by the varicella-zoster virus, is another vaccine that has undergone some changes in the past couple years. It’s pretty safe to assume that many of us have experienced a bout of chickenpox when we were younger. We rejoiced at not having to attend school, though our excitement was quickly dashed away with the realization that we would be subjected to the annoying, itchy symptoms that come with the infamous disease.
While typically not life-threatening, the virus is extremely contagious and actually has a dangerous effect on older adults, as well as those with weak immune systems. Furthermore, pregnant women cannot receive the vaccine which means exposure to the virus can result in some serious complications. As such, the varicella virus was a serious public health concern before the introduction of the vaccine in the United States in 1995.
Today, as the University of Nevada, Reno explains, there is a two-dose vaccine system in place that is nearly 100 percent effective at preventing children from contracting the varicella virus. This, of course, means that it can help reduce the spread of the dangerous virus throughout communities but only if everyone brings their child into a medical professional to receive their vaccines.
The UNR also goes on to quote Dana Perella, Master of Science in Public Health, who says, “the second dose of varicella vaccine provides school-aged children with better protection against the chickenpox virus, compared to one dose alone or no vaccination.” Thanks to the extensive research that shows the double vaccine success rate, and also because the virus are so contagious; many schools are making it a standard admission requirement.
So, with such a high success rate of immunization with the proper vaccine — much like with the measles and mumps vaccines — why are we still seeing these kinds of diseases spreading throughout our communities?
Looking Towards a More Well-Informed Future
As mentioned before, vaccines are continually improving each year. However, the public is starting to face some old problems once again — particularly in regards to viruses and diseases. In fact, as Time magazine points out, “diseases that are and have been avoidable in the U.S. thanks to vaccines, are resurfacing all across the country. Measles, for instance, was considered wiped out in 2000, but there have been several outbreaks in the past few years.” Mumps, unfortunately, has also made a comeback.
These devastating diseases were once a painful memory for the country, yet, thanks to illegitimate claims that vaccines can cause health and mental issues such as autism, the population is back to the heartbreaking task of watching loved ones go through terrible health issues and complications.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that vaccines aren’t always 100 perfect effective. However, this used to be a much smaller issue when everyone in a community was vaccinated. Now, with an increase in children and adults going throughout life without their immunizations, many of those who are vaccinated are still facing exposure to these viruses, and as such, falling extremely sick despite their best efforts. As a parent especially, imagine feeling completely helpless in those kinds of situations. This is yet another reason for communities to band together against vaccine fear-mongering.
The experts at Science Direct break down the natural history of immunization, explaining that, “in the third period, the fear of a vaccine increases. It is fueled by: anti-vaccination movements, lack of trust in the government and national and global public health institutions (CDC, WHO), media (especially internet conspiracy theories, government, Big Pharma and doctors making money and controlling people using vaccines) and the lack of scientific explanation of the etiology of many diseases. All this causes continuing decrease in vaccination coverage, finally leading to increased morbidity and mortality from VPD.” At this point, rather than allowing ourselves to be manipulated by the vaccine fear tactics, we should be combating that fear with knowledge.
It should go without saying that it is perfectly acceptable to have some questions about what exactly is being shot into your body and your kids’ bodies. However, to make an educated decision, it’s crucial to find multiple reliable, credible, and legitimate sources to get the correct and safe information for yourself and others. It’s also important to consult with medical professionals to get their opinion. However, you should also make an effort to confirm their medical education and history to avoid taking the advice of an unlicensed, radical “doctor.”
It’s also worth noting that not only is there a lot of misinformation circulating around the internet these days, but there is also a lot of valuable, factual information that simply ends up not being utilized or noticed. To be fair, the truth can be extremely difficult to discover when it is drowning in the sea of inaccurate facts and information. Unfortunately, perhaps because it can become so sensational in the news and online, inaccurate information can completely wash away the facts as emotions begin running high among the population and communities.
However, if we aren’t willing to spend the time fact checking ourselves and putting what others are claiming to the test, we end up with a significant amount of people believing the same, wrong claims. This can lead to the spread of diseases and viruses. It can cost our communities greatly, and in the end, we hurt ourselves and our families by giving into false immunization “facts” and fear tactics. Ultimately, fact-checking everything you read is crucial when it comes to vaccines, and of course, speaking with several, authorized medical professionals about the risks and benefits of vaccines is essential to creating a better public health situation.
As the healthcare industry continues to advance in our country, so does our ability to treat the nation’s health crises. Vaccines are vital to the public’s overall health and can potentially save thousands of lives each year. This means more soccer games with your children, more Sunday dinners at grandma’s, and more chances to enjoy an overall healthier life with the ones you love. When you get yourself, and your family vaccinated against these harmful, sometimes deadly diseases, not only are you protecting yourself but the other members of your community as well.
While it is amazing how the internet has opened the door for more opportunities to learn about new issues and topics every day, not all of it should be passed around as truth. It’s important to spend the time researching the legitimacy of websites, writers, medical professionals, and those claims that have the ability to change your life. If you need to, confirm with several professionals (in-person if you are able to) before making any decisions that could potentially forever affect you and your family’s health and alter your lives forever.
Remember, that while you can replace a computer that acquires a virus from questionable websites, your body and loved ones are a lot harder to replace if they fall ill as a result of questionable claims. Let us never forget the heartbreaking history of disease and viruses robbing so many of health and life. Together, we can all work to achieve a safer, healthier nation.