Measles, whooping cough, influenza and other infectious diseases were once believed to be largely contained and/or erradicated in America. Now some parents, teachers and medical pratictioners are at odds over what are the best safeguards against communicable illness while maintaining a balance of community wellness and personal choice.
The County of Los Angeles wants to stay ahead of the recent outbreaks by encouraging families to be more proactive with their healthcare options.
The Immunize L.A. Families Coalition will launch its “Preteen Vaccine Week” from Feb. 8-14 in hopes of curtailing future cases of these infectious diseases commonly believed to be childhood maladies but now are rising among the adult population in the southwest United States. Preteen Vaccine Week is a campaign of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
Dr. Oliver Brooks, chair of the Immunize L.A. Families Coalition, said the new screening campaign is designed to help families avoid serious health scares by learning the facts about immunization. “Pre-teen vaccines help to prevent significant illness specifically measles, whooping cough and cervical cancer,” said Brooks, a pediatrician, associate medical director of the Watts HealthCare Corporation and also chief of its Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. “The Tdap vaccination is formulated specifically to prevent whooping cough as well as tetanus and diphtheria. The HPV (human papillomavirus) prevents cervical cancer and the warts associated with that disease. These are preventative measures available today to stop the spread of dangerous infectious diseases.”
Brooks explained that measles was largely eradicated domestically across the United States. The only cases over the past 50 years were in people who came to America from other countries and were not vaccinated. Now, however, a misconception has spread nationwide that the measles vaccine can cause autism.
“The rise of people shunning vaccination is alarming,” Brooks said, “because there is no scientific evidence that suggests this (autism rumor) is correct. Bottom line, the unvaccinated will get measles, such as what happened during the Christmas season at Disneyland. There are too many people who have not received the proper vaccination and this is a tragedy because we have—and always have had—the means to prevent such outbreaks. Misinformation is behind this outbreak … not the vaccine.”
The CDPH requires that all students entering seventh grade provide proof of a Tdap booster shot before starting school. Girls need three shots for full protection against HPV. Other important safeguards include the meningococcal vaccine (preteens need one shot now and a booster at age 16); the influenza (flu) vaccine which is needed every year; and the chickenpox vaccine (many kids don’t receive a second chickenpox vaccine even if they have not come down with the temporary illness commonly associated with childhood). The CDPH’s new outreach program wants to promote preteen doctor visits, specifically for 11- and 12-year-olds.
Despite the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine against infections that can lead to several types of cancers, the vaccination rates are reportedly low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month reported that only 46 percent of teenage girls in California have received the three necessary doses. The CDPH is suggesting that health care professionals and families work more closely to better protect preteens from HPV and the cancers it can cause later in life. Health care professionals also urge parents to have their preteen children vaccinated with the Tdap (booster) shot as soon as possible.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), Brooks suggested, may provide an opportunity for the previously uninsured to receive these life-saving vaccinations. “More people have insurance today, and that means better access to vaccines,” he added.
The African American population locally is receiving the adequate vaccines, he said. However, because of “… family traditions or some unfounded beliefs,” Brooks noted that some Black parents have demonstrated a refusal to have their children vaccinated. “Overall, outside of circumstances specific to some parents, Black children are receiving their recommended vaccines and that community is doing fine. There are no alarming outbreaks within the Black community, and that comes from good communication and a proactive stance in most Black households.”
Brooks said the reason that the HPV vaccination rate is low is because the procedure is relatively new. “It takes a while to get up to date. We are seeing more people come in and have these shots administered as their value is better communicated with the public,” he said.
An immunization schedule is the most practical way of ensuring that your child or teenager does not contract a preventable disease. Today in most hospitals or medical clinics it is a “one-stop” visit to receive necessary vaccinations. Brooks suggests parents and children visit their doctor and get vaccinated “at once.” In terms of some persons opting to forgo vaccinations or those who may harbor an inherent fear that a vaccination can be a precursor to a neurological disorder such as autism, Brooks said such beliefs are unfounded and “ultimately dangerous” to the health and welfare of their offspring.
“We should be happy to have these vaccines,” Brooks said. “We live in an age of medical discovery; parents must trust their family physician and talk to that person to get the proper information. In this age of medical technology, we could use even more vaccines.”
Doctors and nurses no longer travel to grade school campuses to administer shots. The method widely used today is integrated via “well child care,” Brooks explained, which is the most effective way to make sure that all children can spend their youthful days free of preventable diseases that can result in serious health concerns later on.
As well, Brooks explained that there is no qualitative evidence nor medical finding that suggests that the recent rise in measles, whooping cough, chickenpox and influenza is related to immigration whether persons arrive from Mexico, Central America, Southeast Asia or parts of Africa. “There is positively no connection with the increase in infectious diseases and immigration. Americans are simply not getting their needed vaccinations. The concept that there is a correlation between infectious disease and immigration is just as ridiculous as the belief that a measles shot can give a child autism. There’s no connection at all.”