Diseases may return amid decrease in childhood vaccinations, family physicians warn
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As a new school year is about to begin, physicians from across the state on Monday encouraged families to vaccinate their children to prevent the spread and return of diseases like measles, mumps and polio.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a national decrease in childhood and adult vaccinations. This trend needs to be reversed to stop the return of preventable diseases, said Glenn Dregansky, president of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians.
Delicia Pruitt, medical director for the Saginaw County Health Department, said despite the risk of illness, complication, lifelong disability or death, vaccination rates in Michigan continued to drop throughout the pandemic, particularly in children.
While part of this downward trend is due to the pandemic, with people unable to see their physician during the initial phase, the time is overdue for people to get caught up on immunizations, Pruitt said.
Pruitt warned that without vaccines, diseases that are rarely heard of today may make a return, citing a recently confirmed case of polio in New York.
“Immunizations are the reasons we have eliminated so many illnesses suffered by past generations,” Pruitt said. “Since we don’t hear much these days about many of these contagious illnesses of the past. People often forget just how dangerous they actually are.”
“Every case of an eradicated disease has the potential to ignite the resurgence of that disease and outbreak in the community,” Pruitt said.
Measles is so contagious that one person can infect up to nine out of 10 people they come into contact with, if those people are not fully vaccinated. Measles can cause fever and rash, and in serious cases, brain swelling, which can cause permanent brain damage and death, Pruitt said.
Similarly, whooping cough, or pertussis, is just as contagious as measles. Children who are not vaccinated are eight times more likely to get pertussis than children who received all recommended doses of the vaccine, Pruitt said.
With an increase of misinformation eroding trust in family physicians, Beena Nagappala, the medical director of community health for Ascension Southeast Michigan, encouraged families to come to their physician with questions about vaccines and contagious diseases.
“We understand that as more evidence and research based facts are uncovered confusion can arise because this new up-to-date information is different than what was previously reported.” Nagappala said. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you get your information from credible sources, and that includes family physicians.”
As the school year begins, illness will likely increase with children in close proximity to one another, Nagappala said.
While not all illnesses and health issues are preventable, staying up to date on immunizations is essential to maintain wellness, Nagappala said, encouraging families to make appointments with their physician to catch up on vaccines.
Outside of their physician, families can also go to their local health department, school-based health center or pharmacy for immunizations, Nagappala said.
“Being fully vaccinated will protect the health of your child and your family as well as the health of others as school starts,” Nagappala said.
When it comes to preventing and eradicating diseases, there is no such thing as a time frame, Dregansky said.
“You either do it now, or we’re going to have consequences,” he said.
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