Texas needs vaccination heroes

A public health crisis has emerged in Texas and across America as misinformation is leading families to opt out of life-saving immunizations. Consider just two examples: measles and the flu. The U.S. just broke the 25-year record for the most measles cases since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000. Last flu season, more than 80,000 Americans died of the flu, including 12,000 friends and family members in Texas. When we don’t immunize ourselves and our children, we endanger everyone who comes into contact with us.

Rumors and disinformation about vaccines circulate in communities whose members turn inward and rely more on what they feel and fear than on trusted medical science. Parents whose own healthy childhoods were protected by immunizations now say they choose not to vaccinate their children. While we understand and applaud parents’ desires to know more about any course of medical treatment recommended for their children, accurate information and strong immunization policies are needed to avoid preventable diseases from re-emerging.

Rebuilding common-sense public health policies starts with remembering how we got here. We are victims of our own historical success. Before the measles vaccination program in 1963, three to four million Americans contracted measles each year: more than 500 people died and 48,000 were hospitalized annually. Before the polio vaccine, polio disabled tens of thousands of children and adults, killing thousands each year. Now, polio cases are almost unheard of in America. These examples are why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks vaccination as one of the top 10 public health achievements. America should be the world’s shining example of a successful public health program, yet we are regressing.

How many of us recently watched a movie in a theater, went to church, attended a sports event, went on a cruise or flew on an airplane? These normal American activities are in recent news as places where measles was spread to others. Dense community settings like schools and houses of worship are particularly susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases. Two recent measles outbreaks among people with low immunization rates have been in faith communities in New York and Washington State.

We can imagine how quickly an airborne disease can spread in a church, particularly measles, which lingers in the air long after an infected person is gone. This is personal for both of us: Catherine’s mother stopped attending church during her cancer treatment due to her weakened immune system that made her vulnerable to someone coming to church sick. Rekha’s mother is severely immune-compromised. She was hospitalized twice in one year and had to wear a mask when she went into public spaces. While staying away from public spaces helped our mothers live longer, they were isolated from their communities, from people who wanted to help.

Texans can help stop this public health crisis.

The actions we choose to support vaccination policies will save and protect lives. If we choose not to support vaccination it can lead to our loved ones and our communities suffering from preventable illnesses and possible death. We must choose to stand up for vaccination. High vaccination rates — upwards of 95% — are needed to create the shield of “herd immunity,” where there are enough vaccinated people to protect vulnerable newborn infants, medically fragile children and seniors, as well as the rest of us!

Ask your lawmakers to support strong immunization laws and policies. Our elected officials need to acknowledge and address this public health crisis through stronger laws to improve access to care, and particularly to bolster childhood vaccine schedules. We are near the end of the legislative session and so much more can be done to protect Texans against vaccine preventable diseases.

Be a superhero for people you love by being a strong advocate for vaccination to your community and to your lawmakers. We all have the responsibility to lead with facts about how immunizations save lives and teach the importance of herd immunity.

Avoiding the conversations about vaccine myths hurts all of us. What’s worse than watching a loved one suffer? Knowing that illness could have been prevented.

Community Health Choice improves the health and well-being of underserved Texans by opening doors to healthcare and health-related social services.

Catherine Mitchell and Rekha Lakshmanan

Community Health Choice and The Immunization Partnership