Anti-Vaccine Propaganda… the Real Virus

Anti-Vaccine

Guest blog by: Lesley Maisey

As adults, we rely on our foundation of life experience and knowledge to guide our decision making. The difficulty lies in the areas where our knowledge is perhaps biased, negatively influenced by media, or incomplete. The question then becomes how do we as health professionals change someone’s opinion on a hot topic such as influenza immunization with all the misinformation and fear mongering about vaccines? The short answer is education.

I had an opportunity to test this with a group of firefighters during the BC immunization campaign for the 2012-2013 flu season. Last year was unique as policy on influenza immunization had changed for this season for firefighters.  In their role as first responders, the mandate was either receive your annual flu shot or wear a mask prior to entering any patient care situation.

Many firefighters arrived at the clinic to receive the flu shot but many felt they were under duress. This resistance was stemming from two main areas of thought: firstly, people like to have choices and resent being backed into a corner with no perceived option. Secondly, the amount of misinformation about the flu vaccine circulating in the news and in day to day conversation was enough to overwhelm the average person. This leaves people with an uneasy feeling that something must be wrong.

In the case of the reluctant firefighters, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to educate either one on one or in small groups about the benefits of receiving flu vaccine. I was able to provide accurate health information and dispelled some of the tales that abound regarding vaccines. In the case of  these firefighters, the end result was the highest compliance rate I have seen yet with regards to influenza immunizations. Adults like to understand why something is important. Armed with information, many of the firefighters who initially declined a flu shot ended up completing a consent form and receiving the shot.

Moving forward to next season, initial resistance can be overcome with education. It is important to take the time to address people’s concerns, dispel the myths and provide the individual with accurate information in order to assist with informed consent.

Education is critical in countering the anti-vaccine propaganda. Propaganda is equivalent to a virus as it is just as infectious and contagious. Let’s work on getting everyone the antidote in the form of information.

Learn more about immunization here: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/

Lesley Maisey, RN, BSN, COHN(C), MA
Occupational Health Nurse

 

 

Update – BC Influenza Control Policy

Earlier in the year, health authorities throughout BC (on the advice of Dr. Perry Kendall, BC’s Provincial Health Officer) agreed to ramp up efforts to protect patients and seniors from influenza exposure this flu season (read the full story). Now, after a much heated debate, the government has temporarily backed away from the controversial plan to force thousands of provincial health workers to get a flu shot before they can work with patients. 

Original Influenza Policy:

Effective December 1, 2012, all staff, physicians, students, volunteers, contractors and vendors must either be immunized against the flu or wear a procedure mask while in patient care areas.

BC Influenza Policy

Updated BC Influenza Policy (Dec 5th):

The Ministry of Health decided that during the first year of flu policy implementation the focus will not be on enforcement. Health authorities will not be disciplining employees, but will focus on education and awareness to promote compliance with the new policy.

Unimmunized staff must still wear masks in patient care areas, and immunized staff must display the flu shot sticker on ID badges during flu season.

From our Medical Director Dr. Allan Holmes:

“The following Influenza Control Policy for the Health Authorities remains in effect. The only change is that the enforcement within the Health Authorities will not be a focus in the first year. I remain support of the policy as it is designed to maximize protection for our patients.”

Learn more about influenza:
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/diseases-maladies/flu-grippe-eng.php

Polio – The Final One Percent

Eradicating an infectious disease of humans on a worldwide scale is no simple task. In fact, it is so difficult mankind has only achieved it once before – with smallpox.

Currently (with massive effort) we are on track to eradicate a few more diseases, such as polio, the measles and malaria. But even with all the effort we have made towards its eradication, the World Health Assembly voted to renew polio as a global emergency in May. This comes at a time when cases of the deadly virus are at an all-time low.

Eradication of Polio

How can polio be a global emergency when it’s been almost entirely eradicated?

First, there are only three countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria) where polio is endemic (occurring without spreading from somewhere else). But in these countries the reported number of cases has actually gone up.

Second, the polio eradication effort has fallen short near $1-billion in funding due to tough economic times.

This can come as a shock as the efforts to eradicate this terrible disease have made huge leaps forward in recent years with help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has donated $1 billion to polio eradication since 2009.

With the Gates Foundation’s help, there were just 650 cases of polio in 2011, down from 1,352 in 2010, and just this year India was removed from the WHO list of polio-endemic countries.

Growth of Polio

But in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, the number of cases has risen in 2011. In Pakistan, the number of cases increased from 144 to 197; in Afghanistan from 25 to 80; in Nigeria from 21 to 62.

Click to see infographicpolio infographic

Although these infection rates are very low (especially for a disease that used to infect millions), the $9 billion eradication effort will only be successful once new polio cases cease to exist, ending the spread once and for all. This could lead to $50 billion in saved health costs.

Unfortunately, if we cannot continue to fight the disease at the same rapid pace, it’s likely the number of cases will continue to rise, until the disease affects hundreds of thousands of children again. Even one small outbreak can change the course of the eradication effort.

Future of Polio

Why can’t we continue on our current path of mass immunization? The answer is simple; the immunizations efforts so far are just not feasible on a regular basis. And even vaccines are available; it’s not always easy to vaccinate everyone, especially when some even prefer not to be vaccinated for various personal reasons.

polio vaccination

Child Receiving Polio Vaccination

The polio eradication shows us just how difficult it is to rid ourselves of any disease. We are so close, yet we still need to apply pressure. Amazing strides have been made so far in the fight against polio, but there is still much to do.

As experts in pandemic preparedness those of us at Iridia can relate the polio eradication effort to that of the recent H1N1 outbreak and the cropping up of the H5N1 avian flu.

These diseases are similarly difficult to eradicate and will remain with us until every single case has been stamped out. We believe we will get there one day, but until that time all we can do is be prepared.