Talking Points Series Tackles Immunization

In our era of stunning technological advances, controversy and misinformation continue to swirl around the basic health question of when, how, and even whether a child or adult should be vaccinated against particular infectious diseases. The last event in this year’s BIG ARTS Talking Points series at 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, at BIG ARTS Strauss Theater will tackle this subject with the informed commentary of two local experts on the topic of “Immunization and Global Health.”

Sorting fact from fiction, and providing an overview of the current science of immunization, will be Dr. Mary Beth Saunders, director of the Infection Prevention Department at Lee Health, and Dr. Stephanie Stovall, director for pediatric infectious diseases and epidemiology at the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

Medical science has provided us with both the factual information and the means to combat a wide array of diseases through routine vaccinations. But in parallel with these advances, other technologies, principally the internet, have allowed the spread of misinformation, speculation, and anxiety about these basic tools of disease prevention. Add the worry over irruptions of new diseases, such as the current outbreak of a novel coronavirus, and the risks of misinformation and unwarranted panic mount.

“Historically, medical care focused on making diagnoses and curing patients. We still do that, but our job also requires convincing people to use the treatments that science provides to prevent disease and death,” said Dr. Stovall.

Take something as simple as the annual flu shot. Influenza viruses are continually mutating, which requires the annual updating of an effective vaccine. There were over 6500 deaths in the United States from the flu in 2017 (versus around a thousand from coronavirus thus far). Yet only a little over a third of adults aged 18-49 received a flu shot, and less than half of adults aged 50-64 were vaccinated against the flu. Adults aged 65 and over fared better, with over two-thirds receiving the vaccine, but the overall rate of immunization is less than what it should be in an advanced, economically enabled society.

“Twenty-first century medicine is at a point where many of the diseases that would end in tragedy can be prevented or attenuated if we can protect our most vulnerable populations from effects of misinformation perpetuated by non-scientists,” notes Dr. Stovall. In her talk on Tuesday, Stovall will cover the sorry phenomenon of “vaccine hesitancy” and its effect on health of children and adolescents: return of previously nearly eradicated diseases, unnecessary deaths, and inability to prevent chronic diseases like cancer.

Dr. Saunders observes that “Vaccine preventable disease has been among the top ten achievements for public health in this century. The past decade has been marked by many lives saved because of vaccination, substantial declines in preventable diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia and the continued eradication of past devastating diseases such as polio.”

There will be a Q&A session following the talks. Tickets are available for $20 and include a wine reception with the speakers following the event. For tickets, visit http://www.BigArts.org, call 239-395-0900, or visit the box office at 900 Dunlop Road, Sanibel. Tickets will also be sold at the Strauss Theater, 2200 Periwinkle Way, on the day of the event starting at 3 pm.

The Sanibel & Captiva Trust Company is the sponsor of Talking Points.

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