According to several recent polls, some Americans remain hesitant to get vaccinated against novel H1N1 influenza or have their children immunized. Unfortunately, these doubts are helping to bring new attention to the broader anti-vaccine movement, as a recent front-page story in The New York Times illustrates. As experts in infectious diseases, we play an important role in providing information to our patients about the risks and benefits of vaccination, not only against influenza but also other diseases. Our own actions can speak loudly as well.
During this challenging influenza season, IDSA believes vaccination is the best way to protect patients and health providers against influenza, including H1N1, which is why the IDSA Board of Directors recently voted to strengthen the Society’s position supporting mandatory vaccination of HCWs against influenza. (See related IDSA News article about the new policy). Decades of research and experience also tell us that vaccines are a safe and effective way to protect against many once-common and often deadly childhood diseases. Sadly, recent studies demonstrate that these infections are still a threat, and that misinformation about vaccines is doing harm.
A study in the June issue Pediatrics found that children of parents who refuse vaccines are 23 times more likely to get pertussis than fully immunized children. The number of these infections has increased dramatically, jumping from approximately 1,000 cases in 1976 to about 26,000 in 2004. My husband, who is also a physician, came down with pertussis last July, and he is still suffering from this terrible infection, three months later. Unfortunately, many adults don’t get the vaccines they should, and he missed out on the Tdap vaccine, in part because it wasn’t recommended by his internist. Because many vaccine-preventable diseases are not eradicated, it is important for everyone, children and adults, to be immunized.
In another analysis, published in the May 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers reviewed multiple studies showing an increase in the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases, including pertussis and measles, in areas where vaccine refusal is high. “If the enormous benefits to society from vaccination are to be maintained,” the authors warn, “increased efforts will be needed to educate the public about those benefits and to increase public confidence in the systems we use to monitor and ensure vaccine safety.” Furthermore, the authors stress the important role of clinicians in answering questions and helping parents understand the benefits and risks of vaccines.
To help in the awareness effort, IDSA offers health professionals, parents, the media, and policymakers up-to-date, science-based information about vaccines and the diseases they prevent through the National Network for Immunization Information (NNii), of which IDSA is a founding affiliate. The network’s website includes links to vaccination guidelines and downloadable PowerPoint presentations to help providers communicate about vaccine safety with the public, in addition to other useful resources, such as summaries of articles from the scientific, peer-reviewed literature.
In my February column, I wrote about three separate rulings from the U.S. vaccine court that strongly rejected a link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, thimerosal, or a combination of the two. The court’s rejection represented a welcome dose of science in the controversy surrounding autism and vaccines. More funding for vaccine safety research and monitoring is certainly needed, but of the many studies on this subject to date, none has shown that vaccines cause autism.
A cover story in the November issue of Wired magazine clearly explains the lack of evidence for such a link and the risks to all of us posed by vaccine refusal. The article prominently features a strong voice for vaccine science, Paul Offit, MD, who will speak about the anti-vaccine movement during the Special Plenary Session from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday during this year’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Oct. 29-Nov. 1. I look forward to hearing his presentation, and I hope you will attend.The Annual Meeting also marks the end of my term as president of the Society. It has been an honor serving as your president during this busy year of change and milestones, including a new administration in Washington and the emergence of a new pandemic influenza virus. Through it all, IDSA’s commitment to its members has remained the same. On clinical issues affecting ID physicians and the major topics of the day—the response to H1N1, health care reform, antimicrobial resistance and the need for increased antibiotic development, Lyme disease, HIV/AIDS, and global health, to name just a few—IDSA continues to provide important resources to its members and ensure that the expertise of ID physicians is brought to the table.
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