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So why get protected?

It’s been a while since we’ve had a blog on our new Public Health website, and following the recent WHO announcement that the UK has lost its “Measles Free” status, I thought a blog about vaccinations would be particularly relevant.

You heard it correctly, due to a massive rise in Measles cases over the past 12months (Nearly 1,000 in the UK), thanks in the main due to a dip in vaccination rates, the UK is no longer classed as “Measles Free”. And pre-empting your next question, why have MMR vaccine rates fallen? Largely due to vaccine hesitancy and the increasing voice on social media of Anti-Vaxers (or the pro-disease crowd as I like to call them).

So where does Slough stand? Slough has historically been under the vaccination rate that is required to achieve “herd immunity” i.e. High enough levels of immunity to protect the wider community and vulnerable communities like the immunosuppressed. Last year we reached 87.1% which, although is higher than the previous 2 years, still falls over 7% lower than we need.

Why is this and why is it an issue? Since the discreditation of an ex-GP  that created the MMR and Autism rumour, vaccine hesitancy rates have increased worldwide.  Over 35,000 people in the Philippines have caught Measles this year with over 500 deaths and a further 2 million of their population are at risk due to low vaccination rates.

A lot of the outbreaks seen recently in the UK and Western Europe are due to overseas travel where MMR vaccinations are considerably lower than the UK, for example places like Eastern Europe that suffers from low uptake and widespread hesitancy.

Vaccine hesitancy is not a recent issue. It’s been around for decades as people fear substances that are injected into them, even when overwhelming scientific evidence suggests they are safe; people still base their decisions on “word of mouth” or anecdotes. Why is it that we’re not so bothered about taking chemicals and tablets when we are already sick, but have such an issue about it to prevent getting sick? Some go through the ingredients of a vaccine with a toothcomb, but pop anti-biotics, Gaviscon and paracetamols like they are going out of fashion, without worrying about an ingredients list.

Some often link vaccination to an issue that happened at the same time i.e. coincidence. This brings me back to the MMR and Autism myth. Rates of MMR vaccine increased, and at the same time rates of Autism increased! Now, we know that this is due to our ability to actually understand Autism and our ability over the past 30years to better diagnose Autism, and nothing to do with the vaccine.

I could say other things like….

1) People that use hair straighteners have a higher chance of getting breast cancer – Which they do!

2) Deaths due to cancer have risen at the same time as numbers vaccinated against MMR – They have!

3)The rates of diabetes have increased at the time as the MMR vaccine – They have!

What we’re not doing is looking at “confounding” factors i.e. other factors that are impacting on your analysis which haven’t been considered. For the 3 example above:
1) Women are more likely to use hair straighteners and women have a higher chance of getting breast cancer. Nothing to do with the straighteners!
2) There are so many factors that impact on cancer! An increase in air pollution, reduction in physical activity, increase in obesity. Again, nothing related to the vaccine, pure coincidence
3) Falling physical activity, increase in consumed sugars, increase in obesity, not the MMR vaccine. Again, it’s coincidence.

It’s unfortunate for those in the health world that some people are choosing to believe anecdotes, “fake news” and other anti-vaxers , instead of looking at the worldwide success of the vaccine, the massive fall in deaths due to measles and the independent peer reviewed evidence showing the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine.

There is a similar, if not so dramatic, issue with the HPV vaccine as well. Another vaccine which is proven to work, proven to be safe, and has directly reduced the prevalence of cervical cancer. Yes we can now prevent a type of cancer! The council’s public health team covers this in more detail on the HPV page – https://www.publichealthslough.co.uk/campaigns/hpv/

If you’re interested in busting any other myths about vaccines, then a comprehensive reply de-bunking all of them (or all of them that we know of!) can be found here

Ultimately, the decision on whether to vaccinate or not is down to the patient (or a parent/carer in a child’s case). The hope is that people will make an informed and sensible decision, based on the overwhelming amount of evidence now available about the success and safety of vaccines, to make the right decision and to get #IamVaccinated. If you don’t want to protect yourself, then protect your loved ones and protect the more vulnerable members of the community that might not be-able to get the vaccine, by getting YOURSELF vaccinated.

 

Do you have a question about vaccines or are unsure about something? Email us at publichealthslough@slough.gov.uk

 

Oh and no, Measles isn’t just a little rash. Nearly 90,000 people worldwide still die every year because of it. Some people in the UK may have had it as a child and survived with no complications. This is called “survivors bias”.

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