Many fall behind on important vaccinations that protect health
As the world waits in anticipation for a vaccine to the COVID-19 virus that's ravaged our world, it's important to remember the many effective tools we already have in our arsenal against disease—safe, efficacious, and proven vaccines.
As the COVID pandemic has changed many of our daily routines, many are falling behind on important vaccinations that protect our health and shield us from preventable outbreaks. With many medical clinics reducing the number of patients that they could see in response to COVID precautions this spring, a drop in vaccination rates was to be expected and was acknowledged in a report from the Oregon Health Authority in May.
Vaccines have been an important tool in keeping people healthy for hundreds of years. They have made once deadly or debilitating diseases like small pox, measles and polio almost obsolete, keeping outbreaks rare and controllable. Without an annual flu vaccine, we could very well be facing similar COVID-like winters every year.
It is well known that the Pacific Northwest has some of the lowest child vaccination rates in the nation with both Oregon and Washington falling on the bottom 15 states for adherence to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for kindergarten age children. In fact, Oregon is in the midst of a five-year decline in child vaccinations — a troubling trend that we must collectively work to reduce.
Last year we saw the impact these immunization rates can have on people in our region. While the measles have been mostly eradicated around the globe, an outbreak in Clark County, Washington gave the county the dubious distinction of having over five percent of all the measles cases in the entire United States for all of 2019. Luckily, our vaccinated children, combined with robust public health organizations kept us from true tragedy like what took place last winter in Samoa, where there were over 5000 cases and 80 pediatric deaths, but the risk is still there and rising with our declining MMR numbers.
But vaccinations aren't just for kids.
Adult immunizations go beyond the well-known flu shot, and can protect against many infections including pertussis, hepatitis A & B, pneumococcal diseases, shingles, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, meningococcal disease and chickenpox, diseases that once ravaged the world like COVID-19 until they were effectively wrangled by immunizations.
As we come into the fall, it is important that people not neglect their annual influenza vaccine — especially for at risk populations. Data from the Center for Disease Control indicates that flu vaccination prevented an estimated 58,000 flu related hospitalizations in 2018-2019 and 3,5000 influenza-related deaths.
And while influenza vaccinations rates have risen among senior populations in recent years, deferring those this year will leave many at serious health risk. Last year alone, over 34,000 patients died of the flu or flu related illness.
Medical clinics are taking extraordinary steps to keep patients safe. From aggressive cleaning regimen to staggered scheduling and using different entrances for patients showing COVID symptoms, we are minimizing opportunities for community spread while ensuring people have access to the care that they need.
To keep your children current on their vaccinations please consult the CDC's parent's guide to immunizations. For adults, the Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons of Oregon have developed a detailed Vaccination Guide that specifies important vaccinations by age group. Please visit www.opso.org/vaccines to learn more.
At some point a COVID vaccine will exist that allows schools to reopen, workers to return to more traditional workplace models and retirement communities to reopen to visitors. But as we wait for that we cannot lose sight of how critical it is that we adhere to other vaccination protocols.
Dr Sean Schulz is a primary care physician in Sandy and serves on the Board of Directors for the Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons of Oregon.
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