Raising Public Awareness of Vaccine Benefits
Before the 20th century, the only way to become immune to ailments like measles, smallpox, and diphtheria was to develop naturally acquired immunity – to contract a disease and hopefully survive it to prevent future infection. The development of vaccines revolutionized care for these diseases, and smallpox and diphtheria have since been eradicated in the United States while cases of measles are down 99.9% since the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963.
August marks National Immunization Awareness Month, during which health care providers, researchers, and patient advocates join forces to inform the public on the health benefits of vaccines as well as advancements in vaccine research. A recent Research!America public opinion survey shows that 59% of Americans strongly believe they have personally benefited from the development of vaccines over the last 50 years, compared to 75% ten years earlier. In the same survey, 71% of respondents stated that they believe it is ‘very important’ for parents to vaccinate their children – an 11 percentage point decrease from when the same question was asked ten years ago. These data point to the need for vaccine researchers and advocates to engage and educate the public about the value of immunization.
To raise awareness of vaccine benefits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sponsor of National Immunization Awareness month, published vaccine schedules and frequently-asked questions about vaccine safety. In response to the question, “What would happen if we stopped vaccinations?”, the CDC shared an example in Japan where a disease that was apparently under control suddenly returned. In 1974, 80% of Japanese children were receiving the whooping cough vaccine, only 393 people contracted the disease, and not a single whooping cough-related death was reported. Vaccination rates steadily dropped to 10% by 1979, when over 13,000 people contracted whooping cough and 41 died. Disease numbers dropped again once routine vaccination resumed. In partnership with advocates around the country, the CDC hopes to avoid the same situation in the U.S. through widespread awareness of the importance of vaccines to our nation’s health.