Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Physicians on Front Lines for Disease Prevention

Vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks are making headlines.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, has skyrocketed to a near 50-year high in Texas. In September, a North Texas man infected 21 of his fellow church members after bringing home measles from a trip abroad. Vaccine hesitancy has become a breeding ground for these deadly diseases, say Texas physicians. In the state and across the nation, fewer people are receiving the recommended immunizations.

Texas physicians say the increase in vaccine hesitancy is due to a now-rescinded case report by British physician Andrew Wakefield, MD, in 1998. The report linked the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine to a new syndrome of autism and bowel disease. Despite discovering the research was fraudulent, the report has forever altered the dialogue physicians have with patients about immunizations.

“Data disprove the link the link between autism and vaccines, but some parents continue to give weight to that claim,” Litjen (L.J.) Tan, PhD, Immunization Action Coalition chief strategy officer, told Texas Medicine magazine. “Anyone can pose as an expert and contribute their own content on antivaccination blogs and forums.”

Physicians on the front lines of disease prevention say inaccurate information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines has complicated their efforts to immunize adults and children against deadly diseases.

Jason Terk, MD, a Keller pediatrician and member of the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Be Wise ― ImmunizeSM Advisory Panel, says he often takes care of children whose parents are vaccine-hesitant. When this happens, he takes the time to help the parents understand the importance of immunizations.

“I always tell them I have provided these same vaccines to my children. I also tell them I could put them in contact with parents who have lost their child to a vaccine-preventable disease, such as influenza or whooping cough,” says Dr. Terk. “Once you make it a real and personal issue, many parents will come around.”

Texas physicians like Dr. Terk know vaccines are safe and effective. They much prefer using shots to prevent illness than to seeing their patients suffer from potentially life-threatening diseases that vaccination could have prevented.

Read more about what Texas physicians are doing to stop the spread of preventable diseases in “The truth about shots” in TMA’s January issue of Texas Medicine magazine.

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