Vaccination Policy and Public Trust

By Kelsey Berry

The conflict between a physician’s dual roles as an agent of population health and an agent of his or her patient is exemplified in the classical debate about ethical vaccination policy. Whereas studies have demonstrated the role of vaccination in protecting public health at negligible risk to individuals, “vaccine hesitancy” and non-acceptance among parents has increasingly contributed to vaccination delay and refusal. Recent domestic measles outbreaks and increased numbers of reported infections in 2011 and 2013 gesture to the public health impacts of even small decrements in uptake, especially in a globalized setting where the infection can travel easily.[1]

The FORUM at Harvard School of Public Health recently hosted an event on vaccination, exploring through an expert panel the drivers of public perception about vaccination and ways of restoring public trust in vaccination. Panelists discussed the need for research into the values and concerns of those who exhibit vaccine hesitancy, and development of effective modes of communication, tailored to individuals’ concerns, that will allow trained physicians to effectively guide choice. Notably, the clinical encounter was brought up several times as fertile ground for both reestablishing trust and promoting vaccine uptake effectively.

Reestablishing public trust in public health interventions may be key to avoiding conflicts between physicians’ duties to both population health and patients/guardians. If the patient/guardian ultimately expresses support for vaccination, as a result of persuasive information supplied by the physician, the conflict seems to disappear. However, what about the case in which a patient expresses support for vaccination as a policy, but does not support the use of vaccination in the case of his or her own child (assuming for simplicity that there are no medical contraindications to vaccination in this child’s case)? This scenario brings out a possible duality in the held views of patient/guardians. There seem to be two competing views within one patient/guardian: first, the view that we as a society should promote population health through vaccination, and second the view that one’s own person/child should be exempt from vaccination. Continue reading

Lax Enforcement of Vaccine Laws Put Young Adults at Risk

The news about the return of dangerous “childhood” illnesses gets worse and worse. Columbus, Ohio reports an outbreak of 225 cases—with over 50% students at Ohio State University.   It is probably no coincidence that Ohio State recommends but does not require students (outside of those in healthcare settings) be vaccinated in order to attend class.   It’s not just Mumps.  We are seeing cases of preventable diseases like measles and mumps and whooping cough because of parental decisions not to immunize their children but there is increasing evidence that the immunizations most adults received as infants or young children wear off—leaving the population at large vulnerable to infection once an outbreak occurs. Science Daily just reported a confirmed case of a fully vaccinated young woman contracting measles.  The CDC has not yet recommended that adults get booster shots for Mumps and Measles—although they have in some circumstances for Whooping Cough and Polio.  But the more likely it is for a person to be exposed to these diseases, the more important it is to be fully vaccinated.

So why is the law to blame here?  Continue reading

Flu Vaccine Mandates for Health Care Workers

According to officials, the worst of this year’s devastating flu season should be over in most parts of the country. But in early January, the flu had hit 47 of 50 states. According to the CDC, a total of 78 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported. Throughout this terrible flu season, there’s been much talk about vaccination mandates for health care workers.

States have started passing legislation regulating health care worker flu vaccination, and an increasing number of hospitals have started implementing policies in attempt to reach the Healthy People 2020 goal of having 90 percent of health care workers vaccinated. Only two-thirds of health care workers were vaccinated against the flu last year. This can leave patients at risk and hospitals short-staffed because of absenteeism.

Continue reading