EDITORIAL – Vaccination: Our best ‘shot’ against disease

Vaccination is the easiest way to protect against a host of dangerous communicable diseases. This weekend, the Public Health Department is making it even easier by hosting a clinic to make sure our children’s vaccinations are up to date.

Parents are invited to bring children needing vaccinations, including those with missed or outstanding doses, to the Public Health Department at the Cayman Islands Hospital from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. We urge all who are due for an ‘ounce of prevention’ to take part.

The event is being organised in celebration of Vaccination Week in the Americas – a week intended to raise awareness about life-saving vaccines. As Minister for Health Dwayne Seymour wrote in a statement honouring the week, “We each have an important role to play in supporting vaccination and keeping deadly diseases at bay.”

Here on Cayman, robust vaccination programs and high participation rates have vanquished smallpox, polio, neonatal tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, rubella (German measles), mumps, tuberculous meningitis and measles, according to the health minister.

Similar efforts have eradicated several once-common diseases throughout the entire Caribbean – including endemic smallpox in 1971, polio in 1994, and rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 2015, according to the Caribbean Public Health Agency.

The Caribbean has not seen a case of transmitted measles since 1991, according to the agency, but the fight is far from over. It takes ongoing effort and careful vigilance to protect our islands from outbreaks of disease.

Even when a disease has been ‘eradicated’ in a particular area, there is a danger of the infectious agent being reintroduced from another location. Recently, the Pan American Health Organisation has asked public health departments in the Caribbean to be on the lookout for imported cases of measles and rubella, after health officials confirmed two cases of measles imported to the region from Europe, and measles outbreaks continue occurring in the United States.

The Associated Press reported this week, measles cases in the US this year have climbed to their highest level in a generation, after being all but eliminated in that country at the turn of the Millennium. Experts say the resurgence of this highly contagious and potentially serious illness is due, in large part, to misinformation about the benefits and potential dangers of vaccines.

Although the ‘scientific’ study which raised concerns about a possible link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism has been thoroughly debunked and retracted, the myth persists in some circles. To be clear: There is no established link between vaccinations and autism or autistic disorders. In fact, vaccines are overwhelmingly safe.

As the World Health Organization advises, licensed vaccines are subjected to a rigorous series of testing in multiple phases of trials before they are approved, and regularly reassessed after they are released to the market. Scientists the world over continually monitor public health information for any indication of vaccines’ adverse effects.

Vaccines’ side effects are generally minor and temporary – far, far less severe than the symptoms of the diseases they prevent.

So we encourage all our readers to take a moment this weekend to ensure they and their family members are properly vaccinated. Together, we can keep our islands free from vaccine-preventable disease.

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