Nurse Valerie Blemur measures out a H1N1 flu vaccination at the Broadmoor… (Joe Raedle / Getty Images )
The vaccine wars have moved to higher ground: the cabins of Delta airplanes.
A leading group of pediatricians has warned Delta Air Lines that an ad being aired on some of its flights is "putting the lives of children at risk, leaving them unprotected from vaccine-preventable diseases."
The ad, sponsored by the National Vaccine Information Center, focuses on such preventive measures as handwashing and tells viewers to question "vaccines your doctor may recommend" -- with some serious emphasis on the "may." Never mind that federal guidelines do recommend a host of vaccines for children -- including influenza -- within months of being born.
In a letter to Delta's chief executive, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote, "While hand washing and covering sneezes are parts of a larger strategy to prevent the spread of influenza, influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease."
That's especially true for airplane passengers sitting in close quarters for hours on end.
More than 3,000 people have signed a petition on the grassroots site Change.org calling for Delta to remove the ad from its in-flight programming.
"The NVIC is a notorious anti-vaccine organization, whose name and website are designed to give the impression that they are a legitimate government agency," the petition reads. "However their 'vaccine information' is designed to frighten the public and encourage individuals to opt out of protecting themselves and their children through immunization."
The NVIC has labeled the calls to remove the ads an "'act of intimidation' to block public access to full and accurate health information about influenza."
But here's the thing. As more and more people refuse vaccines, it allows infections to spread more rapidly and effectively through a population. It puts giant chinks in the armor known as "herd immunity."
According to a recent Health section story on vaccinations, "Herd immunity is 'like a moat around a castle,' says Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 'The more and more people you immunize, the more difficult it is for the virus or bacteria to spread.'"
One example from the story: "After American children began receiving the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in 2000, for instance, the incidence of pneumococcus caused by the strains of bacteria in the vaccine fell by 55% among adults ages 50 and older, a group that didn't even get the vaccine, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn."
The benefits of vaccines are far greater than the risks, doctors say. As many as 49,000 people die from the flu each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As for those who resist vaccinations because of autism fears, another Health article points out: "The link between autism and vaccines — famously put forth in a 1998 article by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in the British medical journal Lancet that was later found to be fraudulent — has been debunked by a variety of medical studies."
"Why would you delay vaccines?" said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "You have diseases like pneumococcus, whooping cough, Hib and chickenpox which can severely, and fatally, infect young children. Why would you ever take the chance?"
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