April 15, 2014
In recent months there has been an outcry of celebrities and other people on social media advocating against vaccinations for children due to their having allegedly caused autism. These claims have caused some parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. One reason identified is distrust of the federal government and the pharmaceutical industry that provide these vaccines. This misinformation has given diseases that were very limited in infectious geographical scope a second life in regions including Michigan, Illinois, Oregon, Idaho, and Vermont. These states have seen an increase of four times the national average of unvaccinated children.
Data has shown that there were more than 530,000 cases of measles in the U.S during the early 20th century. In 2000, it was declared eradicated. More recently, there has been an increase in infection rates. New York, California, and Texas have seen a steady increase in infection rates, which has been primarily due to patients not getting vaccinated or from people traveling into the U.S. There were 189 cases in 2013.1 Although a small number, the point that is a disease that was eradicated is continuing to grow in areas identified to have limited vaccination rates.
The media presents a number of heart-wrenching stories of what families have experienced due to the consequences of not having vaccinated their children. Cases have included deaths attributed to whooping cough and meningitis. Based upon these examples, some physicians have approached protecting their patients the number one priority. In some cases pediatric physicians will not take new patients if the parents do not plan to vaccinate their child. Some physicians do not want to put their patients at risk because people with their own personal beliefs don’t want to vaccinate. Last year, California had the largest number of kindergartners not vaccinated for philosophical reasons; 14,921 with 49 cases of measles reported by March, compared to only 4 cases by that time last year. 1
What are your thoughts on vaccination? Should it be considered mandatory in an attempt to protect others in the community? Should the media play more of a positive role in assisting in the benefits of vaccines instead of the negative spin induced by a flurry of comments from celebrities and other social media outlets? What can pharmacists do to advocate vaccination awareness programs within their community? I welcome your thoughts on this controversial issue.
Michael J. Cawley, PharmD, RRT, CPFT, FCCM, is a Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences. He has greater than 25 years of experience practicing in the areas of medical, surgical, trauma, and burn intensive care as both a critical care clinical pharmacist and registered respiratory therapist.
1. Alcindor Y. Anti-vaccine movement is giving diseases a 2nd life. USA Today. 2014 Apr 8. www.usatoday.com.