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Zirpoli: Despite facts, myths about vaccines still exist

According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, "There are some topics that seem to lend themselves appropriately to opinion pages. Vaccines, however, which have prevented 6 million deaths every year worldwide and have fundamentally changed modern medicine, should not be on that list. The benefit of vaccines is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact."

Despite all the evidence that vaccines save the lives of millions of children and adults each year, an increasing number of people around the world are choosing not to have their children vaccinated because of persistent myths about side effects. For example, Gupta mentions that while multiple studies with 1.2 million children "show no link between vaccines and autism" many parents still believe the link is real. Ironically, in trying to keep their children safe, these parents are actually putting their children at significant risk.

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Meera Senthillingam of CNN News cites the rising rates of measles cases in Italy due to the decreasing number of children there receiving a measles vaccination. Senthillingam found that "more than 1,600 cases of the disease was reported (so far) in 2017" in Italy and almost half of these people had to be hospitalized. Of these cases, 88 percent were not vaccinated.

Italy is not alone. According to the World Health Organization, there were 4,800 cases of the measles in Romania so far in 2017, including 21 deaths. Travel warnings have been issued for anyone traveling to Italy and Romania to make sure they have first been vaccinated against measles.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 70 cases of the measles in the United States in 2016 and 28 possible cases are under investigation so far in 2017. In addition to these cases, because of international travel, unvaccinated Americans, especially young children, are at risk from multiple sources.

The CDC reports that vaccinations in the United States prevent 14 million cases of 24 different types of infectious diseases and save about 33,000 lives each year. Still, according to the CDC, 42,000 adults and 300 children in America die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The World Health Organization would like to see 95 percent of a nation's population vaccinated in order to kill the measles virus within that territory. In Italy, only 83 percent of the population is vaccinated which is why measles outbreaks are still common there.

Cases of whooping cough, for example, which can be deadly for infants, have declined worldwide from around 200,000 cases a year before a vaccination was introduced to around 1,000 at its lowest point. In 2014, however, the CDC reported nearly 33,000 cases because of people not receiving the whooping cough vaccination.

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Within the United States, the vaccination rate varies greatly from state to state. According to the CDCP, the state of Maine has the nation's highest vaccination rate of 93.1 percent and the state of Wyoming has the nation's lowest vaccination rate of 72.8 percent. Maryland has a vaccination rate of 85.4 percent, 28th highest in the nation. Again, an unvaccinated child or adult is placed at risk when traveling to another state with a low rate of vaccination.

There is a direct link between the proportion of citizens within a state who have health insurance and the vaccination rate for that state. The Affordable Care Act places an emphasis on prevention and vaccinations are included as one of the mandatory services to be covered under the ACA.

The problem with parents making the decision not to vaccinate their children is that it not only places their children at risk for a potentially deadly disease, but it puts all of our children, prior to their scheduled vaccination, at risk. Obviously, this is especially true for infants who, prior to their own vaccination, may be exposed to other children or adults who have not been vaccinated. Thus, it is important for young children to be vaccinated as soon as possible, according to recommended guidelines from their family physician.

Local pediatricians report to me that they are seeing more and more children with preventable infectious diseases in our hospital emergency rooms and that, in the majority of these cases, the children were not vaccinated.

Hopefully, as parents see the increasing rates of preventable infectious diseases among our children, we will all do a better job of promoting vaccinations for everyone and dispelling the myths related to their use.

For the safety of all, let's hope more people become vaccinated.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is a professor and program coordinator of the human services management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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