A vaccine is essential

DTC Member Jody Terranova had this op-ed in the May 7 Journal Inquirer.

There has been a lot of discussion about “essential services” here in Connecticut since the Stay Safe, Stay Home order was

.

I think we can all agree that the physicians, nurses, PAs, respiratory therapists, and others on the front lines are truly “essential” to this fight. The stories they share have been heartbreaking.

Other essential workers are making sure we can get groceries, take public transportation, have our mail delivered and our packages sent from distribution centers and delivered to our doorsteps.

Flattening the curve will be essential to our well-being and social distancing will surely help to restore our lives to normal-at some point. While signs are pointing in a positive direction that this is happening, two things will also be essential for us to get back to normal — widespread testing and a vaccine available to all.

It’s ironic that earlier this year I testified at the state Capitol in support of legislation to remove the nonmedical exemption for vaccines in an effort to stem the increasing tide of unvaccinated children in Connecticut schools and the threat to herd immunity.

With 134 schools in Connecticut falling below the CDC guideline for vaccination rates, now, more than ever, it is essential that we recognize vaccines are safe and effective and make a proactive change in our requirements.

In my own practice, some families are still coming to the office to vaccinate their infants and young children according to the recommended schedule, but many are choosing to stay home to avoid potential risk of exposure to the coronavirus and are thus delaying vaccinations.

These children will be off schedule and not fully protected for some time as they “catch up” on their missed immunizations once life returns to normal.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages pediatricians and families of infants and young children to continue preventative visits and vaccines during this pandemic to avoid weakening herd immunity for vaccine preventable diseases.

According to the World Health Organization, “Immunization is an essential health services which may be affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic.” With the pandemic decreasing access to preventive care, like immunizations, the potential for decreased herd immunity is real.

The WHO went on to say, “Disruption of immunization services, even for brief periods, will result in increased numbers of susceptible individuals and raise the likelihood of outbreak-prone vaccine preventable diseases such as measles.” It estimates that over 100 million children will miss measles vaccines due to disruptions from this pandemic.

As the world focuses its attention on the one vaccine that we all need to fight this invisible killer, others scoff at the numerous vaccines we already have for diseases like measles and pertussis.

While the process for vaccine development and the safety and efficacy testing that vaccines undergo has long been touted by scientists as rigorous, it is often questioned by the vaccine hesitant.

Now, the public wants a vaccine as quickly as possible.

It’s an interesting dynamic.

Outside of physically distancing ourselves from one another, the only way to stop the pandemic is to vaccinate against it.

COVID-19 has raised the awareness of the importance of a robust public health system and I hope we can all agree with public health experts that vaccines are essential and that we must eliminate the nonmedical exemptions that will further threaten our communities once we return to normal.

Jody Terranova is an assistant professor of pediatrics, University of Connecticut; a practicing pediatrician in Hartford; and the immunization representative for American Academy of Pediatrics, CT Chapter.

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