Mayoral Musings: Public Health and Vaccines

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As a mayor, he’s concerned by the reappearance of diseases that seemed well in hand a generation ago.

As a mayor, the issue of public health and community wellness is at the top of my list, as I imagine it is for most mayors in their respective communities. This general category of health and wellness includes everything from crime prevention and more recreation to obesity and clean drinking water. One area that gets less attention locally but speaks to health and wellness is the topic of vaccines and the illnesses they prevent.

I’m mindful of the fact that there is division these days on the subject of vaccines. I come from a generation that didn’t question vaccines, perhaps a generation that was the first to not live in dread of certain illnesses and diseases, such as polio, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, and rubella. I don’t know much about the history of vaccines, but I would guess that things really got rolling in the post-war period up through the 1970s.

I am part of a generation that saw vaccines as an unmitigated good—something that allowed people to live healthier and longer lives. Even if we didn’t give much thought to the topic, on some gut level we viewed vaccines as evidence of the wonders of science and the people responsible as heroes. Everyone got vaccinated back then and it seemed like we were well on our way to eradicating certain diseases from the face of the earth.

Not so much today; we’re going backwards. A growing number of people view all vaccines with a great deal of suspicion believing that vaccinations cause other unintended illnesses and conditions. I’m not a doctor so I won’t venture into the science but I will say that as a mayor, concerned with the health and wellness of my community, I am concerned by the confusion and division over vaccines and the reappearance of diseases that seemed well in hand a generation ago.

The obvious thing that comes to mind is the yearly flu vaccine. I mention this because each year we hit flu season and we never know when a given year will morph into something more, something beyond the usual, such as a pandemic that impacts businesses, schools, public services, transportation and every level of the community. Granted, flu vaccines are a bit of a guess from season to season and they’re not perfect—you can still get sick—but the chances are good that being vaccinated will make the flu less severe if you do get it.   

Beyond the flu, there are increased outbreaks of measles in various places. In November, in Ocean County, roughly a dozen people came down with the measles, which was part of a larger cluster of outbreaks that included Brooklyn and Rockland County, New York. They traced these outbreaks to an international traveler, which suggests that just one person can trigger an outbreak wherever they encounter segments of unvaccinated people.   

The list of vaccine-preventable diseases is growing, but the most common include measles, mumps, polio, whooping cough, rubella, and diphtheria. When you consider international travel combined with the growing number of people who refuse vaccinations for themselves and their children, it is likely that in the near future we will experience large outbreaks that our great-grandparents would have given anything to avoid. 

The additional worries are the new and emerging diseases, along with the hybrids, that we’re just now finding out about. As we speak, something called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is floating around in several states including New Jersey. First diagnosed in 2014, its impacts are much like polio and it mostly impacts younger children. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes it or how to prevent it.

My point is that we need to control those diseases we can control and when it comes to being vaccinated, make our decisions for ourselves and our children on objective and verifiable data as opposed to anecdotal evidence and misinformation.

I don’t have a specific dog in the fight, except to say that as a mayor, I want the residents in my community to be healthy and well, where people are able to go about their daily lives so that businesses are open, customers are shopping, students are in class, teachers are teaching, buses and taxis are running, public offices are open, police are out on patrol, and the healthcare facilities are not overwhelmed. We’ve got enough challenges these days, so as we start the New Year vaccine-preventable diseases shouldn’t be among them.


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