Preventing the Preventable
The measles virus is serious. It is a potentially deadly and highly contagious. Measles is so contagious that 90% of people who have not been immunized can become infected. Additionally, the disease can live for up to two hours in the in the environment where an infected person coughed or sneezed. In 1963, the first measles vaccine was licensed for use in the US. Despite a highly effective vaccine (93% effective after one dose, 97% effective after two doses), our country continues to experience outbreaks of this preventable disease. In 2014 there were 667 cases of measles reported in the US. In January of 2015, a single outbreak originating in California resulted in 147 cases involving seven states including Mexico and Canada. This year, an outbreak in a highly unvaccinated community in Minnesota exceeded the total number of US measles cases in 2016. Even though measles isn’t common in the United States, outbreaks typically occur when unvaccinated travelers visiting to or from areas of the world where measles is present, contract the disease, and bring it to the US. Due to its highly contagious nature, measles can quickly spread to those who have not been vaccinated.
How Vaccines Work
As a healthcare professional, you already know how vaccines work. Sometimes it can be difficult to explain how they work to your patients. The simplest way is to tell them that vaccines boost their immune system to help them fight off diseases. Another way to explain it to your patients is that vaccines train their immune system by giving it a weakened, inactivated, or partial version of a virus or bacteria to fight off. Some vaccines require more than one dose, also called a booster shot. Booster shots are like a refresher course for the immune system. It’s important to use real world terms so anyone can understand. You should also explain that there might be symptoms after receiving a vaccine, but they will be mild and much safer than the actual infection. The CDC goes into more detail here.
Why Getting a Shot isn’t a Big Deal
A common hesitation when it comes to vaccinating children is fear of the injection. Many of you probably have your own strategies for helping your pediatric patients deal with the shot. Let’s start with a solid foundation and then you can tell us about your tips in the comments below. First and foremost, reassure the parents. Helping the parents relax can go a long way towards helping their children relax. Next, encourage the parents to explain what is going to happen at the visit and why to their child before they leave for their appointment. Yes, it’s going to hurt for a second. No, it’s not a punishment. It is to protect you from getting sick. It’s important to remember that the benefits greatly outweigh that brief moment of pain. Vaccines prevent more painful procedures often associated with a serious illness (lab test, spinal taps, IV’s…).
Some people cannot receive certain vaccines. They may have compromised immune systems or are too young. These individuals rely on community immunity. Community immunity is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination. For a newborn, that population is their parents and care takers. For everyone else, it is all of us. Being vaccinated can protect your immediate family and everyone around you.
Vaccines Save Lives
It is estimated that the measles vaccine has prevented 20.3 million deaths between 2000 and 2015. As a health care professional, you can make a difference by helping to explain the importance of getting vaccinated. If you’re interested in helping further, you can support groups like Vaccine Ambassadors. Vaccine Ambassadors provides vaccines to children and families in Latin America and the Caribbean in need of immunization services.