Tuesday, Jul 23, 2019
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Vaccinations are still important

It’s alarming to hear that 15,000 children in The Bahamas need to be vaccinated. Debunked bad science, fake news and skepticism toward modern medicine play a role in people turning away from one of the greatest inventions in human history: the vaccine.

That figure was provided by Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands yesterday.

“So the approach is to sensitize and educate the public about the challenges of the anti-vaccination movement and what impact it’s had on what we call ‘herd immunity’. What we would like to do is make sure that The Bahamas remains the safe place that it is for vaccine-preventable illnesses,” he said.

“We want to try to get our vaccination coverage, at least for MMR, up to about 95 percent. We’re just at about 90, which is good, but we want excellent. That way we don’t have the kinds of heart-wrenching, heartbreaking stories that you’re hearing from the U.S., or from the Philippines, or from Venezuela, or other places.”

The MMR vaccine is for measles, mumps and rubella. In the United States, up to February 7, there were 101 measles cases in 10 states. That is nearly double the number of cases for all of 2012. In Europe, measles cases are at their highest level in 20 years. At least 70 people died last month from the disease in the Philippines.

The invention of the vaccine, for a host of infectious diseases, is one of the major factors that contributed to the growth of human populations and the expansion of life expectancy in most countries in the 20th century.

The anti-vaccination camp is a mix of types. One of their major beliefs is that vaccines cause autism. This claim is based on debunked bad science. The mainstream global medical community is united on the necessity of vaccinations.

While it is reasonable to discuss issues such as the proper storage of vaccines, ensuring they are not expired and the schedule in which they should be administered, there is no reputable science stating that vaccines should not be taken because they are dangerous.

The protection we have against these diseases that maim and kill results from vaccines. The unvaccinated are protected because most of us are.

While vaccinations are mandatory in The Bahamas, Sands said the Vaccination Act must be updated to impose stiffer penalties on parents who do not vaccinate their children.

“The law does require that you have your child vaccinated within a certain period of time, but the Vaccination Act came out in 1860, and the penalty is only four dollars. So, I think we have to revisit this moving forward,” he said.

Asked whether we can expect those changes this year, Sands said, that is not on this year’s agenda because deep review is needed of the issues at play.

“Given the fact that it hasn’t been changed in so long, we would like it to be reasonable moving forward,” he said.

“No one could have anticipated that the world would see yellow fever again, that we’d see measles again, that we’d see diphtheria again at the level that it is, that we’re seeing polio again, not in The Bahamas, but we’re seeing it around the world.

“If anyone can remember the iron lungs for people paralyzed by polio, [there was] ward after ward after ward with people unable to breathe.

“We can’t ever get back there. That’s why effective vaccination strategies are so important.”

While it is important to update the law, the government too must work on expanding significantly its vaccination public education campaign. It has to fight aggressively against the anti-vaccination nonsense spread on the Internet and via social media.

People should be reminded regularly of the fatality rates of these diseases. They should also be reminded that some leave surviving victims scarred, cripple, blind and incapacitated in other forms.

Lies and false information must be countered rigorously with truth. Public health officials and right-thinking people must push back more effectively against dangerous misinformation that is causing deaths worldwide.

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