As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued on, it’s sobering to look back and reflect on how we’ve all adapted during this challenging time. Around the world, we’ve now witnessed more than one million deaths due to the virus, with over 500 of those occurring in West Virginia. We’ve become de facto public health experts, reading the latest on herd immunity rates and vaccine development trials as we wear masks and social distance. As a public educator it has been especially important to me that our communities continue their adherence to public safety guidelines and increased awareness of health issues, so that teachers and schools are able to maintain a semblance of normalcy for our students and children in these difficult times. We have become more aware of how interconnected we are, and how much we depend upon one another. At the same time, it’s never been more evident how much circulating misinformation there is around vaccines, jeopardizing public safety and millions of lives around the world.
Let’s get the facts straight. Vaccines are the single-most effective health intervention for reducing the impact of infectious disease, after clean water. No other investment is as cost-effective or wide-reaching: a $1 investment in vaccines can lead to a net $50 in savings in healthcare, lost wages, and productivity. Because of vaccines, the world has eradicated diseases like smallpox and 99.9% of polio. I’m an advocate with United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign because vaccines work.
Unfortunately, even without a pandemic, approximately one in five children do not have access to routine immunizations. Around the world, 1.5 million children still die from vaccine-preventable deaths due to diseases like polio, measles, pneumonia, and rotavirus. In the United States alone, over $27 billion each year is spent in treatment related to vaccine-preventable diseases. Expanding access to vaccinations can save a child’s life every 20 seconds, stopping disease spread, reducing economic losses, and building strong health systems across nations.
We cannot let this infodemic about vaccines threaten the two to three million lives saved each year by immunizations—not to mention with the potential addition of a future COVID-19 vaccine. I urge us to report vaccine misinformation when we see it, and to contact Representative McKinley and Senators Capito and Manchin to support global vaccine programs through partners such as the UN, Gavi, and CDC. After all, diseases don’t respect borders, and we all have a stake in the outcome.