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"I don't believe in vaccines" - (9/11/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Charlie walked into the pharmacy searching for a few items on his shopping list. “Hey, Charlie! Do you want to get a flu shot today?” the pharmacist asked. “Oh no, not me!” Charlie exclaimed. “Some people believe in vaccines. Others don’t. I happen to be on the side that does not believe in them.” The pharmacist thought that it is not about sides. It is about the data and what the science teaches us.  

Let’s talk about the numbers. Vaccines given to infants and young children over the past two decades will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations, and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, that virus infected about 500,000 Americans a year, causing 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations. In recent years, the number of diagnoses fell to around 60, mostly in people arriving from countries where disease outbreaks have occurred such as the Philippines.  

The seasonal influenza vaccine prevented more than 40,000 flu-associated deaths in the US during a 9-year period from 2005-2006 through 2013-2014 according to a 2015 study published in the journal Vaccine. The CDC estimates that seasonal flu-associated deaths in the US range between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually. The study showed the vaccine prevented flu-associated deaths in 89% of people 65 years and older. Children 6 months through 4 years of age also benefitted from flu vaccine in terms of the percentage of deaths averted. Children younger than 5 years old and adults 65 years of age and older are at high risk of serious flu complications, at high risk for flu-related deaths, and have the highest flu-associated hospitalization rates.
Exactly what is a vaccine? A vaccine is a biological substance that makes one immune to a particular disease. The vaccine essentially teaches the body's immune system to recognize the agent – such as a virus or bacterium – as a threat, destroy it, and to further recognize and destroy any of the microorganisms associated with the disease that it may encounter in the future. Vaccines can be prophylactic. Example: the flu vaccine prevents the flu. Or, a vaccine can be therapeutic in that it harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Example: The prostate cancer vaccine can stimulate a patient’s immune system to target prostate cancer cells, a process called immunotherapy.

Yet, with all the success of the vaccines already available, distrust as to their safety lingers. Doubts about vaccines’ lack of side effects – and fading memories of vaccine-preventable diseases — have contributed to a resurgence of forgotten diseases such as measles, which was officially declared eradicated in the US in 2000. Numerous studies have debunked the notion that vaccines cause autism or other diseases. Yet, many parents refuse to get their children inoculated on those grounds. To that end, we are seeing a return of certain diseases, such as whooping cough (pertussis). During 2016, the CDC reported about 18,000 cases of pertussis. In the 1970s, the number of reported cases was in the 1,000 to 2,000 range. Mumps is also on the upswing with 6,366 cases in 2016 compared with 229 cases in 2012. 

Numbers do not lie. Science is the truth. And Charlie, who is 72, is clearly taking a risk by skipping his flu shot. Hopefully, he will not catch a complicated case of flu from one of his 13 school-age grandkids.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com



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