Conversations Wrap Up

Vaccines key to continued improvements in public health

09.17.13 | By John Castellani

Biopharmaceutical scientists work daily to identify and develop potential preventative and therapeutic medicines for some of the most difficult conditions and diseases, with the unified goal of helping people live longer and healthier lives. Rarely have we been more successful at achieving this goal than with the development and global utilization of vaccines  

Vaccines have successfully limited the spread of diseases, and even eradicated certain diseases, yet challenges still remain. Some segments of the population, influenced by misinformation, have a heightened misperception of the risks posed by vaccines. In reality, not vaccinating children leaves them at significant risk for serious health complications.

In last week’s “Conversations,” we posed the question:

Historically, vaccines have had an unmatched impact on improving public health. Looking ahead, what are the biggest obstacles and exciting opportunities in the field?

Our contributors come from a variety of backgrounds, but they all share one thing in common: an appreciation for the crucial role vaccines play in keeping people healthy.

As we noted earlier this week on the Catalyst, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently brought national attention to the alarming high rate of measles cases being reported in the U.S. - 159 cases, so far, in 2013. In his “Conversations” response, Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC’s director, reminds us that 2.6 million children under the age of five die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, and stresses the importance of ensuring access to these lifesaving vaccines and promoting vaccine acceptance.  One way this is being done in the U.S. is through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. Now in its 20th year, VFC has proven to be a highly successful public-private partnership. 

According to Christophe Weber, president of Vaccines at GSK, vaccinating babies born each year saves $10 billion in direct medical costs and $33 billion in indirect costs. But, while important, those savings pale in comparison to the role vaccines have played in saving lives from deadly diseases like polio and smallpox. Looking at all these benefits leads Christophe to the conclusion that “no other health intervention is as simple, powerful and cost effective as a vaccine.”

But vaccines are only effective if used. Roberta DeBiasi of Children’s National Medical Center explains that worldwide, more than 20 percent of children do not receive their primary vaccination series. There are various reasons for this, but a growing concern is the spread of misinformation about the safety of vaccines. Such false information has a significant impact on the public perception of vaccines and places the public health at risk.

Marla Weston, CEO of the American Nurses Association, similarly shared concerns about misinformation affecting the public’s opinion of vaccines. Advances in vaccine science can be for naught if public fears about safety lead to fewer people being vaccinated. Nurses have a responsibility, Marla states, to discuss the importance of immunizations with patients and “directly address misinformation about vaccines.”

Robyn Swirling, outreach coordinator for Advocates for Youth, is acutely aware of the importance of vaccinations, and shared her own personal story. Robyn was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008 after contracting HPV. In her post, Robyn stresses the importance of HPV vaccination as a preventative measure against the strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and pre-cancers. HPV is a significant public health issue, as three fourths of sexually active people between the ages of 15 and 49 will contract HPV at some point.

Thanks to all our contributors to this week’s Conversations question. Working together, we will continue to advance vaccine science and improve public health throughout the world.



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