It’s always the right time to spread awareness about the importance of immunization, but given everything going on right now, it’s even more essential to get the word out about vaccines. In honor of Immunization Awareness Month, we’re highlighting three reasons why you should help spread vaccine awareness in your community.
1. Vaccine Myths Are Rampant Online
In 1998, a medical paper was published in “The Lancet,” a medical journal in the U.K., that claimed there was a connection between the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps, and rubella) and autism in children. Since then, you’ve likely encountered vaccine-skeptical or anti-vaccination content as you used social media or browsed the internet.
Myths and misconceptions about vaccines have continued to circulate the internet and social media platforms. And as these platforms have become increasingly important in our daily lives, these conspiracy theories and incorrect assumptions have spread like wildfire due to a lack of fact-checking oversight.
Unfortunately, what’s often ignored by many of the people who get caught up in these theories is that the doctor who wrote the paper that fueled anti-vaccination movements was struck from the U.K.’s medical register in 2010 (this is the equivalent of losing your medical license in America) for “dishonestly and irresponsibly” conducting his research. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration have thoroughly studied vaccine safety and, like many other major health organizations around the world, have found no link between vaccines and autism.
2. Anti-Vaccination Movements Could Disrupt the Effectiveness of a COVID-19 Vaccine
As we continue to contend with the ongoing pandemic, doctors and scientists around the world are hopeful that a COVID-19 vaccine will be a major step towards returning to normal life. But to understand how vaccines will actually help us overcome COVID-19, it’s important to understand the concept of “herd immunity.”
Herd immunity, in the simplest terms, is when a large enough portion of the population is immune to a specific disease to make it too difficult for a disease to spread to other people. While many diseases result in natural immunity after infection, vaccines help populations more quickly achieve herd immunity because they don’t require people to get sick before immunity is reached. But it’s important to remember that this only works if a large percent of the population gets vaccinated.
The exact percentage of those who would need to get vaccinated for COVID-19 to reach herd immunity is still uncertain. For context, it’s estimated that 94 percent of the population needs to be immune to measles in order to achieve herd immunity. The coronavirus appears to be far less contagious than the measles virus, so the target percentage is likely lower than that in this instance — there are models that range from 40-60 percent.
In short, if a vaccine for COVID-19 does become available in the future yet too many people refuse to receive it, our chances of reaching herd immunity are diminished.
3. Getting the Seasonal Flu Vaccine Could Help Hospitals Cope with Rising COVID-19 Cases
Flu season is fast approaching, and that could cause serious problems for healthcare providers. From the beginning, the primary concern about COVID-19 was about how the medical system would be able to cope with substantial increases in intensive care unit (ICU) patients.
Thus far, UM Charles Regional Medical Center has been able to manage the challenges of this pandemic effectively — speaking to our community’s willingness to do its part in combating the virus — but other places around the country haven’t been so fortunate. And as the seasonal flu starts popping up again, that could put even more strain on hospitals.
Initial estimates from the CDC show that the most recent flu season was accountable for anywhere between 24,000 and 62,000 deaths in our country — that’s just over the course of seven months. In addition, it’s estimated that upwards of 740,000 hospitalizations were the result of flu illnesses. So what should you do? It’s simple. Get the seasonal flu vaccine this year.
How You Can Spread Immunization Awareness
With so much misinformation out there, it might seem like an insurmountable task to spread awareness about the facts. But little actions can go a long way to setting the record straight. Here are some ways you can get involved:
- Talk to your friends and family about the importance of vaccines and the role they play in our lives
- Use social media to share facts about vaccines from authoritative sources such as the CDC, WHO, the National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, the UM Charles Regional team, etc.
- If you’re unsure about a news story, turn to fact-checking sites such as FactCheck.org or Snopes.com. These aren’t a replacement for the medical sources noted above but can quickly dispel some of the more common conspiracy theories out there.
- Call out misinformation about vaccines shared on social media. You might not change the original person’s mind, but there’s evidence to suggest that you could help others be more skeptical about what they’re reading.
For more information about vaccines, visit the CDC’s website. And to learn more about which vaccines are right for you and your family, consult a doctor.