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Editorial: Flu, measles on rise; get you, your kids vaccinated

“We hope families take seriously the threat that flu can have on their health and get their flu vaccination today. It’s not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

– Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel

In January, the Journal editorialized that “It’s not too late to get that flu shot — for all our sakes.”

And since then more than 120 New Mexico babies and toddlers age 4 and under have been hospitalized with influenza. State epidemiologist Dr. Michael Landen says our hospitalization rate for young flu victims is triple the national average. And yet,

n It’s not like there’s a shortage of the vaccine – unlike the new shingles vaccine, there are plenty of flu shots available.

n It’s not like it’s inconvenient to get one – most every doctor’s office, grocery and drug store have the shots on hand.

n It’s not like it’s expensive – insurance and Medicaid expansion cover the vaccine.

n It’s not like it’s a bad match for the actual flu – this season’s vaccine covers both the H1N1 and H3N2 strains, with an efficacy rate for adults at 47 percent and children ages 6 months through 17 years at 61 percent. That means it cuts the chances of the recipient getting the flu by almost half or even more, and those who do get it won’t get as sick.

n And it’s not like vaccines cause autism. The 1995 British study that linked the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine with the condition has been discredited and disproven multiple times over – it turns out the lead author had been paid by attorneys seeking to file lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. And a new Danish study that followed 657,461 children born from 1999 to 2010 has concluded vaccinations do not increase the risk for autism, do not trigger autism in susceptible children, and there is no association with the clustering of autism cases after vaccination.

But more than 120 N.M. babies and toddlers have gotten so very sick with the flu this year they had to be hospitalized. Meanwhile the state of Washington, home to a strong anti-vaxer contingent, has declared an emergency because of a measles outbreak.

Vaccinations are essential to a healthy population because they are predicated on herd immunity – when enough people are vaccinated and immune to a disease, its transmission is reduced or eliminated. Those who are too medically fragile to tolerate vaccinations – individuals with severely compromised immune systems or true allergies to the ingredients – depend on the rest of us to get vaccinated so diseases don’t spread.

And when we don’t, 206 Americans get the measles in the first two months of 2019 (mainly unvaccinated children under age 10), even though the United States eradicated measles in 2000. And more than 120 babies and toddlers in New Mexico get the flu.

Last week the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions called for a national campaign – like the one against smoking – to counter the public health threat posed by anti-vaccine groups. The World Health Organization has put vaccine hesitancy on its 2019 list of Top 10 Global Threats. Measles killed 110,000 people worldwide in 2017. More than 80,000 Americans died of the flu in the 2017-18 season.

Landen says that’s because “the influenza vaccine is one of our most effective interventions, and people are not using it enough. Adults make the decisions to get children vaccinated, so we need the adults to make better decisions to help us reduce our child influenza hospital rate.”

This flu season is running longer and stronger, so we are doubling down on our ask from January:

“It’s not too late to get that flu shot — for all our sakes.”

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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