Contagious diseases are gaining a renewed foothold in America because more people are avoiding vaccinations, said Karina Barthel.
Barthel was the lead speaker of a group of student nurses who organized a presentation on the subject of immunizations.
At a Sept. 15 Brown Bag luncheon on campus, a group of second-year nursing students stressed the importance of childhood immunizations. About 30 people attended.
“We chose to cover vaccinations because it is incredibly important that people understand vaccines,” Barthel said.
She said it is distressing to be involved in healthcare and watch people actively choose to become ill and endanger other people by confounding herd immunity.
In the U.S. most vaccine-preventable childhood diseases have decreased by more than 95 percent over the last 50 years, due to the implementation of childhood vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Vaccinations for diseases such as measles, polio and smallpox, which were once considered lethal to many in the population, have led to minimization or complete elimination of outbreaks altogether.
Despite the widespread availability of these vaccines, there are still a significant number of children in the U.S. that do not receive the fully recommended schedule of vaccinations, and some do not receive any vaccinations at all, Barthel said.
“Some vaccine-preventable diseases, like pertussis (whooping cough) and chickenpox, remain common in the U.S.,” according to the CDC.
A 2005 study of 17,563 2-year-olds found that more than one in four have either missed doses of vaccines or have not been vaccinated.
One of the many reasons parents give for not getting their children vaccinated is due to their religious beliefs. This is just one of the reasons a growing number of non-medical exemptions have been granted in recent years.
When there is a cluster of exemptions in a community, an outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases often is the result.
Take for example the recent mumps outbreak in Central Ohio where 483 cases have been reported so far this year, according to the CDC website.
Ohio boasts the largest Amish community in the U.S, and according to the website Amish America, the Amish Community doesn’t generally vaccinate their children.
Another reason that appears to be gaining popularity over the last decade is that the benefits don’t outweigh the risk.
According to Barthel’s research, some people forego vaccinations due to the mistaken belief that vaccines may cause autism. The CDC has stated that despite significant research to the contrary, many parents believe that Thimerosal, a compound found in vaccines given to infants and young children, may be linked to autism. This is simply not the case.
Barthel went on to explain how “herd immunity” works, and how the unvaccinated reduce protection for everyone. She also used the phrase “diminished herd immunity.”
As the number of those who are not vaccinated increases, fewer remain in the vaccinated “herd,” increasing the risk for the unvaccinated to contract an illness. This also can put those who are vaccinated at a greater risk due to the lack of complete immunity given by vaccinations. For further information on childhood vaccines, visit www.cdc.gov. For information on free or reduced-cost vaccines, visit the Oklahoma State Department of Health at www.ok.gov/health, or the local county health department.