The nation has gone through tragic events this year, with multiple catastrophic storms and flooding, and mass shootings in places such as Las Vegas. Texas has borne more than its share of rough times, between the terrible losses from Hurricane Harvey and the horror of a mass shooting just this month in Sutherland Springs that took the lives of more than 25 churchgoers. At times, it can be hard to feel thankful, right?
And yet that’s what the first Thanksgiving was about. It wasn’t to give thanks for a gentle, problem-free year in which everyone thrived with no effort, but for the ability to join together and help each other through the most challenging times.
Even the road to protecting the public from serious, vaccine-preventable diseases has been a bumpy one this year. Mumps outbreaks broke out around the nation, including here in Texas. Far worse, a measles outbreak struck some 80 people, mostly children, in Minnesota, putting many of them in the hospital, after vaccine opponents targeted the Somali community in the state. In Europe, 35 children died of measles. A hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego killed more than 15 people.
On the policy level, the Texas Legislature did not pass any of the bills that were intended to help inform parents, provide the state government with better data about vaccinations and corrected inaccurate language about vaccine exemptions.
Yet we at The Immunization Partnership find plenty to be grateful for as we continue our mission of promoting vaccination in the interest of public health, even though sometimes the good is mixed with less promising news:
--Texas has among the best-vaccinated kindergartners in the nation. According to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 97.3 percent of the state’s kindergartners have been vaccinated against measles, the fourth highest rate in the nation. The vaccination rates for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough were similarly high, as is the one for chickenpox.
Unfortunately, increasing numbers of parents continue to seek non-medical exemptions from vaccination for their children, which will call for vigilance and action in the future. But we are grateful to the vast majority of Texas parents who understand the importance of immunization for their children.
--A newly-approved shingles vaccine shows promise of protecting many more people from the painful and sometimes debilitating reactivation of the chickenpox virus, usually in older people. Compared with the older vaccine, which had an effectiveness rate of a little over 50 percent, with protectiveness waning quickly in subsequent years, the new vaccine is more than 90 percent effective and appears to last longer.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices already has recommended that older Americans get the new shot, even if they already had the other one. Not only will it protect more of the vaccinated people, but once people realize that a more effective vaccine is available, more of them might seek it out.
--The measles outbreak in Minnesota was upsetting, but we are deeply grateful that no one perished.
--A survey by the CDC shows that more pregnant women are protecting their babies by getting the pertussis vaccine. Close to half of pregnant women are now receiving the vaccine, compared with just 27 percent in 2014, an 81 percent increase. The vaccine during pregnancy confers protection on newborn babies, who cannot start to receive their vaccine against whooping cough until they are 2 months old. The disease is extremely dangerous to young babies.
--Public health experts believe this year’s flu vaccine will be a good match for the dominant H3N2 strain. That’s especially good news because doctors are bracing for a particularly rough flu season.
--Texans have proven themselves once again in the most difficult circumstances by rescuing and helping their neighbors and total strangers during the catastrophic floods, and communities are beginning to rebuild. We will forever be grateful for the grit of Texans.
--We are so very thankful for our partners: The volunteers and advocates who give countless hours to advocate for vaccines, the donors to The Immunization Partnership, the caring legislators who introduce bills to help protect our state from preventable disease, the doctors and other healthcare providers who continue to try to educate and persuade patients and parents about the importance of vaccination.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. We hope that you, too, find yourselves with many reasons for gratitude.
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