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Vaccinations: The benefits, the opposition, and the role of the health care provider

Uchenna Ibelo

posted December 30, 2015

The diseases that vaccines prevent can be dangerous, or even deadly. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s natural defenses to help it safely develop immunity to disease.”1

The individual and population health benefits of vaccines have been clearly demonstrated the world over.  In low and middle income countries, vaccines have led to significant declines in the incidence of preventable diseases, such as pneumonia and polio, which in turn, have also led to declines in preventable deaths attributed to such diseases.  In high income countries, populations have remained relatively healthy, in part due to vaccines.

Despite the benefits, however, there still exist groups of people opposed to vaccinations.  Although the number is small relative to those in favour of vaccinations, the anti-vaccination movement is alive and well, very vocal, and at times very hostile.  Misinformation and fear-mongering has misinformed and misguided much of the arguments in the anti-vaccination movement.  However, the consequences of this are potentially detrimental.  For example, diseases that were all but eradicated, such as the measles, have re-emerged leading to outbreaks in some parts of North America and Europe.  Herd immunity has also been threatened.  Herd immunity occurs:

“(w)hen a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. [Therefore], those who are not eligible for certain vaccines… get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained”2

Thus, by not vaccinating, herd immunity is put at risk, meaning that those who cannot be vaccinated, such as pregnant women, infants, and the immunocompromised, are put at risk for contracting diseases they previously would have been protected from.

Unless vaccinations become mandatory, at the end of the day it will always be the patient’s choice to vaccinate or not to vaccinate.  However, I believe it is of the utmost importance for the individual to really consider the implications of making the decision not to vaccinate.  I also believe that health care providers can play a pivotal role in this area.  Through discussions with patients who have misgivings and concerns about the vaccinations, health care providers can identify the patient’s gaps in knowledge about vaccines, work with patients to provide education that is appropriate and relevant to the patient’s concerns, and work with patient to enable them to make truly informed decisions regarding vaccinations.

 

References

1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  How Vaccines Prevent Diseases. (2015).  Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/vaccine-decision/prevent-diseases.html

2. US Department of Health and Human Services.  Community Immunity (“Herd Immunity”). (n.d.)  Retrieved from http://www.vaccines.gov/basics/protection/