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Schools Are Reopening: Are Your Children Vaccinated?

Schools Are Reopening: Are Your Children Vaccinated?


By Dr. Ebun Ebunlomo
Associate Professor, Public Health, American Military University

August is often a time when parents are getting their children ready for a new school year. Family vacations are wrapping up, families who were moving have done so, and back-to-school checklists -- shopping for school supplies, physicals and dental visits -- are being taken care of as the first day of school approaches.

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August is also National Immunization Awareness Month. With the recent resurgence of disease outbreaks in the United States, especially measles, the question “to immunize or to not immunize?” is again in the spotlight. The American Public Health Association is hosting a webinar on August 6, 2019, on public health efforts in this area.

Why Getting Vaccinated Is So Important

Some parents have expressed concerns about possible side effects of vaccinations, and the anti-vaccination movement is growing across the country. Without going into too much detail about both sides of the argument, here are some thoughts to consider from a public health perspective:

1. Herd immunity: This concept, also known as community immunity, describes the indirect protection from an infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of that population has been immunized against the disease, often through vaccination.

An article in the Scandinavian Journal of Infectious Diseases shows that the herd effect has had a major impact in the eradication of smallpox; has reduced the transmission of pertussis; and protects against influenza and pneumococcal disease. Therefore, vaccination not only protects children, but can indirectly protect other members of the community.

2. Access: Unfortunately, some communities in the United States and elsewhere may not have easy access to immunization. Global public health practitioners may look at anti-vaccination proponents as a “first world” problem. In other words, with access comes the choice of whether to accept vaccinations or oppose uptake, whereas in other parts of the world that do not have enough vaccines to provide protection to their members, uptake is not a question.

Therefore, for those who have access to immunization but choose not to get immunized or have their children vaccinated, it is important to recognize that the access to immunizations that we have so freely is being taken for granted. Perhaps if we could take a global assessment of vaccinations and its impact, it could broaden our perspective in that our decision to not vaccinate could reduce herd immunity and expose others to infectious disease. To some extent, it appears as a waste of resources to other communities that may be lacking life-saving immunizations.

Here are some global statistics to consider:

  • According to the World Health Organization, immunization is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions to date, averting an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year.
  • Measles, a major cause of death among children globally, declined by 80 per cent worldwide between 2000 and 2017, preventing an estimated 21.1 million deaths due to immunization.
  • About 19 million children under 1 year of age worldwide did not get vaccinated and did not receive the three recommended doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (DTP) in 2018, and an estimated 13.5 million children under age 1 did not benefit from any vaccination.
  • The cost of a vaccine, often less than USD $1, is much lower than the cost of treating a sick child or fighting a disease outbreak.

3. Questionable research: It is important to point out some questionable research findings on the topic of anti-vaccination. Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, who has become an anti-vaccine activist, was a gastroenterologist until he was struck off the UK medical register for unethical behavior, misconduct and dishonesty. Wakefield authored a fraudulent research paper that claimed a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccineautism and bowel disease.

On January 28, 2010, a five-member statutory tribunal found him guilty of 36 charges, including four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of developmentally delayed children. His seemingly seminal publication in The Lancet, the journal of the British medical association, was deleted and his medical license was revoked in the UK.

In summary, if you or a loved one is faced with the question of whether to get vaccinated, please make an informed decision based on these three aspects. In addition to these three main aspects, global organizations such as the World Health Organization and national leading public health entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Public Health Association all show the benefits of vaccinations and consequences of not getting vaccinated:

  • Vaccines have led to the elimination of polio, measles and rubella from the United States.
  • The 2017-2018 influenza season resulted in over 79,000 deaths, including 185 children, most of whom were unvaccinated. This number of deaths represents more deaths from the flu than any single season since the 1970s.
  • From January 1 to July 25, 2019, over 1,000 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 30 states in the U.S. When used as recommended, measles vaccine is 98% effective in preventing the disease.

Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has online toolkits and resources where parents, educators and others can get more information about immunization and vaccinations for children and adults.

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About the Author

Dr. Ebun Ebunlomo, MPH, MCHES, is a trained scholar in health promotion and health education, with over 10 years of experience developing, implementing and evaluating public health programs in clinical, community and work-site settings. She previously was an evaluation fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She received her Ph.D. in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, with minors in Epidemiology and Leadership/Management from the University of Texas School of Public Health.