Vax Facts: Global Vaccination Week Seeks Immunity

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
April 24 2014 11:30 AM

Global Vaccination Week: Are You Up to Date?

immunize_cartoon
You heard the cartoon. Do it.

Drawing by the World Health Organization

Are you up to date with your vaccinations?

That’s the theme of this year’s Global Vaccination Week (Apr. 24–30, 2014), a big health effort by the World Health Organization. The goal: Save millions of lives, many if not most being children’s.

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Yes, you read that right. Estimates are that vaccines save about 8 million lives every year. Measles alone kills more than 100,000 people every year worldwide … and that number was a terrifying 2.6 million deaths before 1980, when the vaccine was introduced. Just from measles. Measles, a disease that is so rare nowadays that in the United States fatalities are almost unheard of.

That’s because of vaccinations. More than a billion children have been vaccinated against measles since the year 2000, and deaths have dropped by nearly 80 percent.

Vaccines work. Smallpox killed hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century. By 1978 it was gone. Why? An intensive global vaccination effort wiped that scourge off the planet. There hasn’t been a case in the wild since 1977.

The list goes on. Polio, diphtheria, pertussis, and more—terrifying diseases, and in general ones that attack children more than adults—are all on the decline globally due to vaccinations. But we can do better.

Unicef infographoic
This is one part of a great infographic put together by UNICEF USA. Click to see the whole thing.

Photo by UNICEF USA

Vaccines of course help prevent you from getting infected, but they also help lessen the severity of an infection if you do wind up getting sick anyway. And through herd immunity they also help prevent infections of people who cannot get vaccinated (very young infants and immunosuppressed folks, mostly). I’m all for saving the lives of babies.

And yet, despite this mountain of evidence and long history of success, anti-vaccination efforts continue apace. Jenny McCarthy, perhaps the best known mouthpiece of vaccine misinformation, claims she’s not anti-vax in a shameless op-ed (and has her head handed to her for it). Actress Alicia Silverstone has jumped on that bandwagon in a recent book on parenting. In Denver, a bill making it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children was shot down.

I hate that this has happened the way it did, but some moms are speaking out due to losing a child, like Shannon Duffy Peterson, whose daughter Abby died at the age of 6 from complications due to chicken pox. My friends Toni and David McCaffery lost their daughter Dana at the age of four weeks to pertussis and are now vocal public advocates for vaccination. Deb Proctor had one child suffer a brief reaction to a rotovirus vaccine, but her two other children (as well as she herself) contracted pertussis, whooping cough. She’s lived through both sides of this, and now strongly supports vaccinations.

We need to make sure people are aware of the facts of vaccinations, both for adults and children.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

And that leads us back to the Global Vaccination Awareness week. Are you up to date on your vaccines? I am. My wife is as well, and so is our daughter (who is attending college next year, and has to prove she’s vaccinated to enroll). This is as good a time as any: Go see your board-certified health practitioner, and find out if you need boosters.

The life you save may be your own. Or it may be an infant up the street, or a cancer surviving co-worker with a low white blood cell count, or just some innocent kid whose parents decided to opt out based on bad information. It’s up to all of us to do what we can to protect the health of all of us on this planet.

Do what you can.

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