I’m currently in the masters in public health program at Johns Hopkins University and am taking my first course in epidemiology. I have my first midterm tomorrow and among the many concepts the professors want me to understand is herd immunity.
Herd immunity is the ability to resist an attack of a disease because the majority of the members are immune to it. Disease passes from person to person so when a large portion of the population is immune — most likely through immunizations — this protects those who aren’t immune by decreasing the likelihood a susceptible person will come in contact with the disease.
I hope that was review for the clinicians. But for me, though I had been reporting on health care for four years, this was a new concept. It helps put the importance of mass vaccinations into context. Immunizations don’t only protect those who receive them, but the entire population.
That’s why this seemingly growing movement by parents not to immunize their children is so worrisome. I want to know why public health experts have not taken a stronger, more public position about the importance of immunization.
CBS News ran a report last week asking whether substantial financial contributions from vaccine companies tarnishes the independence of the prominent vaccine promoters, the Smerican Academy of Pediatrics and Every Child by Two.
Pointing out financial conflicts of interest of scientists whose research shapes public policy is important. But the story fails to say that vaccination has been a crucial part of protecting the public’s health since their inception.
The dozens of comments following the CBS story are an insight into what many people today think about vaccinations. Here’s one:
The vaccine argument will never be effectively debated or investigated
by the mainstream media– there is simply too much collusion in big
business today. So dismiss what you read, but consider common sense–
those populations which do not vaccinate, such as the Amish, show a
much lower incidence for all illnesses, not just the disease vaccine is
supposed to prevent. Rates for cancer, immunological disease,
allergies, autism, etc have all skyrocketed in recent years in spite of
”modern” medicines and vaccines. — Posted by h5mind
Where is the response from public health experts, particularly the ones that don’t have financial ties and can speak objectively on the topic? My professors keep saying public health practitioners need to improve their communication skills. Clearly.
On a side note, I now think every health reporter should take a course in epidemiology. I have a new appreciation for calculating disease incidence, survival rates and the validity and reliability of a screening test. Hopefully, I do it correctly on my test tomorrow!