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Vaccines Still Saving Lives

February 21, 2011

WHEELING - Vaccines against disease save lives, and the public should continue to get shots for both themselves and their children, medical officials say.

"They work - the living proof is us," said Howard Gamble, administrator for the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department. "On a large scale, as you look at the research, we have immunizations for such diseases as polio. And because of its level of eradication, we have to believe it's the result of immunization.

"You see a disease at its height, then there are vaccines developed and you see a decrease in the number of cases of the disease. It gets to a point where a preventable disease is near eradication."

Article Photos

Vaccine supplies at the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department.

Dr. William Mercer, health officer for Ohio County, acknowledged there have been some concerns in the past about immunizations, but that these have largely been disproved.

"The safety record is there," he said. "In all my years of giving vaccinations, I have had one person have a moderate reactions. I haven't see a major reaction. ...

"When you get a vaccination you are not only helping yourself, but you are helping others to not get sick."

Fact Box

Are vaccines still effective for children and adults?

Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble believes the answer is yes, as immunizations have led to the near eradication of diseases such as polio.

And flu vaccines have proven especially beneficial to the public, Gamble said.

"When it comes to the annual vaccines, everyone has their own opinions - but historically they do work," he commented. "Prior to flu vaccines, we saw a huge number of deaths from influenza.

"As we see vaccines introduced, we see mortality and morbidity numbers decrease."

Gamble noted that many thought the push toward immunizing the public against the H1N1 virus last year "was all for nothing."

"At the same point, we vaccinated a lot of people," he said. "We did not see the disease because we vaccinated, and we did not have the flu we had in 1918."

And Gamble also pointed out that there are few instances of such diseases as mumps and measles in West Virginia - largely because the state has strict laws requiring children entering public schools to have mandated immunizations.

"In other parts of the country - such as in California - they do not have those rules," Gamble said "In those places, we do see outbreaks of mumps or measles. And they can be very deadly in some situations."

County health officers such as Mercer are the only persons who can grant an exemption to a child needing an immunization to enter school.

"In Mississippi and in West Virginia, we do not have the religious exemption," Mercer said. "Some say we are behind. I say we're ahead.

"We cannot grant exemptions that are not based on medical science. You have to have a documented allergic reaction, or the threat of an injury from the vaccine, to get an exemption. That's why we don't see a number of these diseases in the state."

Mercer also noted recent revelations that studies linking childhood vaccinations to autism were found to be contrived, and the information not true.

"Everything we do is a risk, and we do know there are some reactions to vaccinations," he said. "You can die from influenza.

"But the amount of disease it helps prevent is overwhelming. We have the vaccines, we should use them."

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