Tag Archives: vaccine

Benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential risks

By Linda Bell, M.D.
Director, Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control
State Epidemiologist

Thanks to vaccinations, diseases such as polio and diphtheria are becoming rare in the United States. Some physicians rarely — if ever — treat a case of measles.

That’s what makes vaccination one of the most successful public health accomplishments of the 20th century. It reduces the spread of disease and prevents complications and deaths.

But that success does not mean that the diseases vaccines help prevent are no longer a threat.

Although we have seen significant reductions in – even the elimination of – certain diseases, there were nearly 7,800 reports of vaccine-preventable diseases in South Carolina in 2016.  Of 238 disease outbreak investigations the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control conducted last year, 29 percent were influenza outbreaks.

Many of those flu cases occurred in schools and nursing homes, which serve people who often have complications from the flu.  The age groups with the highest rates of hospitalizations for flu included children ages 4 and younger and individuals older than 65. Unfortunately, 94 deaths from the flu have been reported in South Carolina during the 2016-17 flu season, which ends the end of September.

We also continue to see cases of whooping cough, bacterial meningitis, hepatitis A and B and other vaccine-preventable diseases, and they will increase unless we get more people vaccinated. The number of people receiving vaccines in South Carolina and the U.S. has declined in recent years.

Still, the fact remains that vaccines protect entire populations from multiple diseases. But questions remain.

Are vaccines effective? While no vaccine offers 100 percent protection, they are extremely effective.

How well a vaccine prevents illness varies based on the type of vaccine and the individual’s health status.  For example, the flu vaccine does not protect the elderly as well as it protects younger people. However, studies suggest that elderly people vaccinated against the flu have less severe disease, are less likely to be hospitalized and are less likely to die from the flu.

While there can be adverse effects from vaccines, severe adverse events are rare and occur far less often than complications from vaccine-preventable diseases. Although questions have been raised about whether there is a relationship between autism and vaccines, research does not show any such link.

Do vaccines have risks? Yes, vaccines — like all medications — have potential risks that must be weighed against the benefits. The risks are quite low and are comparable to those associated with prescription and over-the-counter medication.  The benefits are significant in protecting the public health and in cost-savings.  Ask your health care provider about what vaccines are best for you as well as potential risks based on your health factors.

In July the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics published a study showing that a 5 percent decrease in the number of children ages 2 to 11 vaccinated against the measles in the United States could triple the number of measles cases in that group and significantly increase the cost of controlling disease outbreaks. Of great concern is that the article reveals that several regions in the country are just above the level of vaccine coverage needed to prevent measles outbreaks.  If vaccination levels drop further, we could see a sharp rise in measles cases, one of the most highly contagious diseases known.

We continue to see preventable illness, hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths in South Carolina from influenza, whooping cough, meningitis, hepatitis B, and other vaccine-preventable diseases.  Every year U.S. travelers are infected after being exposed to diseases while abroad. Infected people can begin spreading a disease before they show symptoms. Numerous outbreaks have occurred in communities with low vaccination rates.

DHEC is working to increase vaccine coverage in South Carolina by enhancing partnerships with other vaccine providers, offering vaccines in schools and communities, improving technology that tracks vaccinations and simplifies access to immunization certificates, and — most importantly — educating people about the risk of diseases that can be prevented with vaccines.

While vaccines help prevent the spread of disease, their effectiveness relies on people being vaccinated. That’s where you can help. It is important that everyone – not just children – get immunized.

We have had great success combating diseases through vaccination. Let’s not lose ground now.

The value of immunizations for infants can’t be overstated

Immunizations save lives. There is no denying it: Vaccines have drastically reduced infant death and disability caused by preventable diseases.

Just consider some of the milestones shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Through immunization, we can now protect infants and children from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases before age 2.
  • In the 1950s, nearly every child developed measles and, unfortunately, some even died from this serious disease. Many physicians today have never seen a case of the measles.
  • Among children born during 1994-2013, vaccination will prevent an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes. It also saves about $13.5 billion in direct costs.
  • The National Immunization Survey has consistently shown that childhood immunization rates for vaccines routinely recommended for children remain at or near record levels.

The importance of immunizations

Immunizations play a valuable role in protecting the health of not only our children, but families and communities. They not only help protect vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases.

The success of vaccines in preventing disease can’t be overstated. Each year we pause to observe National Infant Immunization Week, which this year runs from April 22-29.  It is a time to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and to celebrate the achievements of immunization programs in promoting healthy communities throughout the United States.  It is also a time to raise awareness about the importance of ensuring all children are fully protected from vaccine-preventable diseases through immunization.

Vaccine-preventable diseases still circulate in the United States and around the world, so continued vaccination is necessary to protect everyone from potential outbreaks. For example, measles is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa, and travelers with measles continue to bring the disease into the United States. It’s easy for measles to spread when it reaches communities in the United States — or anywhere else — where groups of people are unvaccinated.

The best way to protect against childhood diseases

Remember, giving babies the recommended immunizations by age 2 is the best way to protect them from serious diseases, like whooping cough and measles.  Talk to your health care provider about what vaccines are recommended for your child, and make sure you keep all immunization and well-child appointments.  For more information about how to protect your child with immunizations, visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/protecting-children/index.html.

Make getting vaccinations less stressful

Even though you know you are keeping her safe from diseases, it’s hard to see your child cry when she gets her shots. But you can take some steps to make the process less stressful.

The CDC suggests trying the following tips before, during and after shots:

For babies and younger children

  • Distract and comfort your child by cuddling, singing or talking softly.
  • Smile and make eye contact with your child. Let your child know that everything is OK.
  • Comfort your child with a favorite toy or book. A blanket that smells familiar will help your child feel more comfortable.
  • Hold your child firmly on your lap, whenever possible.

For older children and adolescents

  • Take deep breaths with your child to help “blow out” the pain.
  • Point out interesting things in the room to help create distractions.
  • Tell or read stories. Be sure to pack their favorite book!
  • Support your child if he or she cries. Never scold a child for not “being brave.”

CDC’s ‘Take 3 Actions’ Flu Message

If you haven’t gotten a flu vaccine this season, it’s not too late. Getting vaccinated annually is the No. 1 way to combat this contagious disease that can lead to hospitalization — and even death. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking three actions to protect against the flu:

1) Take time to get a flu vaccine.

DHEC and the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine, which can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu.

It is especially important for high-risk persons to be vaccinated to reduce the risk of severe illness. People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.

Vaccination also is important for health care workers and those who live with or care for high-risk people to keep from spreading flu to them.

2) Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick, limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs such as the flu.

3) Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness. Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. These drugs are different from antibiotics; they are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) and are not available over-the-counter.

Visit CDC’s website to find out more about the flu and the three actions it recommends to fight it.

Those working with older people or the chronically ill should get a flu shot

The flu is a serious health threat to vulnerable populations such as people 65 and older and those living with chronic medical conditions. People in those groups account for the majority of flu hospitalizations and deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People living with and caring for high-risk persons should take every precaution to protect themselves and those they are caring for during influenza season. Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the flu, and DHEC and the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated annually.

Health care workers are recommended, and sometimes required by an employer, to be vaccinated against the flu. The reason is quite simple: Staff in doctors’ offices, hospitals and long-term care facilities have direct or indirect contact with patients.  Health care staff are at risk not only of becoming infected with influenza at work, but also of spreading it to patients and their coworkers.

Vaccination of long-term health care staff is especially important because most of their patients are elderly or have chronic health issues and are at higher risk of flu complications.  Residents and staff in long-term care facilities often have regular close contact.  According to the CDC, studies show that during a confirmed influenza outbreak in a long-term care facility, up to one in three residents and one in four staff develop an influenza-like illness. Click here for more information on why it is important for health care personnel in long-term care to be vaccinated against the flu.

Visit the CDC’s website to see how to improve vaccination coverage among long-term health care personnel. Visitors at the website also can access an influenza toolkit for long-term care employers.

It’s not too late to get your flu vaccine!  Even if you don’t have a regular health care provider the flu vaccine is available in many settings. In addition to DHEC clinics, many local providers — including doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, college health centers, schools and workplaces — now offer flu vaccines. DHEC encourages everyone to find the facility that works best for them.

Handwashing: The ‘do-it-yourself vaccine’

With all the visiting that occurs during the holiday season, germs can quickly and easily pass from person to person. When it comes to protecting yourself and others and putting a stop to the spread of germs, don’t underestimate the power of handwashing.

On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refers to handwashing as a “do-it-yourself vaccine.” Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and keep from spreading germs to others.

Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If clean, running water is not accessible, use soap and available water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to clean your hands.

So, when should you wash your hands? Here’s what the CDC says:

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

Visit the CDC’s website for more information on handwashing. Also, view the video below for instructions on how to effectively wash your hands.