Fear of disease needs to overcome the fear of vaccines

One of the reasons I love social media is that it keeps me up to date on breaking news stories. Here are two stories that came through my social media channels recently. Both of these have to do with immunizations, which, of course, is a healthcare and social media hot topic, especially among pediatricians.

U.S. Measles Cases in 2013 May Be The Most In 17 Years” was posted on CNN. In case you’re not familiar, measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. According to the Centers of Disease Control, there have been 159 cases from January 1 through August 24. If this keeps up, this will be a record year of cases. According to the article,

nearly two-thirds of the reported cases happened in three outbreaks in communities where many people don’t vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons.

Some parents have been hesitant on childhood immunizations for many years, but the controversy was ramped up in 1998, when a study was released stating that the measles vaccine was linked to autism. The press and many celebrities got on board to tell people to avoid vaccines.

When I was in residency in the early 2000s, it was very difficult for me to convince parents to give their kids not only the MMR vaccine, but any vaccines. This controversial research paper was partially retracted in 2004 and labelled totally inaccurate (meaning the study lied) in 2010. But, by then, the damage was done. To this day, many parents still refuse immunizations for their children.

Fast forward to the report. Twitter was lighting up with medical professionals and the general public upset with people who do not vaccinate their children. 1998 was pre-social media the way that we know it today. The mainstream media, celebrities, and vaccine opponents went unchecked and the lies perpetuated. These days, you see tweets below to spread the correct information.

The second story I’ll quickly mention is “Whooping Cough Reaches Epidemic Level In Texas” from Reuters. According to the article, the number of whooping cough (pertussis) could hit a 50 year high. Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that can last weeks, especially with severe coughing fits. Pertussis can be prevented with vaccination. The piece does not go into why state officials believe cases are increased. Some on social media have stated that this epidemic was also caused by vaccine refusal.

I believe both of these infection stories underscore the importance of childhood immunizations. Even as I write this blog post, I’m receiving e-mail messages and direct messages on social media saying things like, “Well, if there were only safe immunizations, then I could get my children vaccinated.” Really? That’s what you have to say for yourself?

Whether it be childhood immunizations, adult immunizations, flu shots, or statin medications, until the fear of the disease, illness, or death can overcome the unrealistic expectation of zero side effects, tragedies like preventable illness and preventable mortality will continue.

Mike Sevilla is a family physician who blogs at his self-titled site, Dr. Mike Sevilla.

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • ninguem

    I don’t get much vaccine resistance. Then again, I’m not in a Yuppie neighborhood. I’m in your basic blue-collar community, with a lot of diverse immigrants.

    My pediatric patients are Mexicans, Somalians, Guatemalans, Ukranians, etc……..

    The mothers are not resistant to the vaccines, because they know bloody well what those diseases can do.

    Very likely they saw it first hand.

  • Disqus_37216b4O

    I tried to reason with an anti-vaxxer yesterday. It’s hopeless.

    The woo-based anti-vax/alt-health camp is probably the only place where rich white “progressives” are in complete agreement with poor white “bible-thumpers”. Both groups are convinced that vaccines are evil, and both groups are impervious to science-based facts.

    • rbthe4th2

      Hmmm. A lot of folks at my conservative fundamentalist church are what I believe you would call “Bible thumpers” and none of them believe in “woo”. Then again, we are faithful to The Text, so that might be the difference. There is common sense where I go.

  • Claire

    Thank you for this article! All we can do is continue to try to educate the public.

Most Popular