By Dylan Deprey
The days are getting shorter and the leaves are beginning to change color. It can only mean one thing: summer is almost over. While Wisconsinites mentally prepare to shovel in blizzard-like conditions, they can also physically prepare themselves for the upcoming cold and flu season. Although August is coming to a close, it is immunization awareness month and the City of Milwaukee Health Department would love to report zero cases of preventable diseases this year.
Disneyland broke headlines last year with a measles outbreak that sickened a total of 147 people. There were no deaths, but it did put vaccination up for debate on the national stage. According to City Health Department Epidemiologist Marisa Stanley, Measles is a highly contagious and potentially fatal respiratory virus that spreads rapidly through the air.
“Let’s say you have measles and you cough in your office. The three other people in the office would have to be checked as well as the twenty others in the other room next to it because they were connected by the AC ventilation,” Stanley said.
Measles, the Mumps, and Pertussis (Whooping Cough) are all preventable with immunizations, but they are repeatedly reported around the country. On May 19, 2016, the City Health Department reported that there were three cases of the mumps, and in the last two years UWM has seen cases of the mumps on campus.
Although vaccines can be associated with an annoying pinch and sore arm, they actually train the body’s immune system to fight against a disease.
Vaccines expose the body to an antigen, weakened or killed virus or bacteria, and the body learns how to fight the disease if ever met again later in life. “Vaccines are the number one prevention for diseases to spread throughout the community,” said Paul Biedrzycki, City Director of Disease Control and Environmental Health.
Biedrzycki said that the debate for young parents to vaccinate or not vaccinate stems from three changing areas in the world of immunization: the efficacy and safety of vaccines, the mutations of diseases and the lack of trust between people and Government Healthcare entities.
Biedrzycki said that the science behind immunization was incontrovertible but the efficacy of vaccines has changed over time, creating skepticism among the public. He noted that after the antibacterial growth preservative Thimerosal was removed as a precaution from vaccines in 1999, people started to associate early stage autism with child immunizations. Although the CDC and other health agencies refuted this claim by peer-reviewed studies, the connection still stands.
“There is a level of skepticism, which we respect, but it is challenging for us to fully immunize populations,” Biedrzycki said.
A fully immunized population is otherwise known as “herd immunity.” Immunized people, the herd, make up a certain percentage of the population that provide a ring of protection around those who are unable to get vaccinated. An example is if there is over 95 percent herd immunity, measles cannot be spread. According to a study after the Disneyland outbreak, it was found that lack of immunizations was the root cause.
Biedrzycki said that immunization numbers have jumped from 60 percent to 80 percent over the last ten years in Milwaukee. He added that its not just back-to-school boosters parents need to focus on, flu season crashes just as fast as the first cold snap in October.
“We deal with a lot of communicable diseases that cause people to get very sick, but this one kills people,” Biedrzycki said.
He added that although the flu shot is around 60 to 65 percent effective it is better to be prepared then suffer the consequences.
The City of Milwaukee Health Department also works with a number of walk-in clinics around the city to help those who cannot afford to get their immunizations. They also hold healthcare events with schools, healthcare
“Diseases are highly communicable and it is in our best interest to work together, because it can’t be us coming up to you with guns and badge telling you to get immunized,” Biedrzycki said.
For More information on Immunization services visit the Milwaukee City Health Department’s website, http://city.milwaukee.gov/health/ immunizations.