by Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United
Our friend, Tom, was talking about living through the polio outbreak before a vaccine was available.
His sentiments around community health are timely. In the last several months, with the recent measles outbreak, there’s a growing concern that the healthy exchange between generations can quickly turn unhealthy if vaccinations are not up to date.
Vaccinations are recommended for young, old and in between not only to protect from catching preventable illnesses but also to reduce the chance of spreading them between generations.
It’s called “herd immunity,” which works simply but only if the majority of people are vaccinated against a disease.
Keeping vaccination rates at a high level ensures that those among us who can’t be vaccinated — the very young, those with compromised immune systems, and sometimes the elders — are also protected.
My organization, Generations United, works every day to build bridges, connecting generations so that people of all ages are viewed as a benefit to each other, not a burden.
Whether within a family or community context, we believe exchanges across the ages are healthy, reducing the detrimental effects of social isolation and allowing the passing on of culture and knowledge.
However, without up-to-date vaccinations, these connections can be more harmful than helpful.
The other recent vaccine news that’s worrisome is that a committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering dropping a recommendation for a vaccine that prevents the spread of a disease that affects both young and old.
The vaccine is one that prevents pneumococcal diseases — pneumonia. This can be deadly for anyone, but the young and the old are particularly vulnerable. In fact, each year thousands of Americans die from the disease.
Not recommending the vaccine is a risky proposition.
Because more and more grandparents are being called on to provide part-time or full-time care for their young grandchildren,
In fact, nearly one third of young children in childcare are in the care of grandparents.
And about 7.8 million children across the country live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives.
Of these more than 2.5 million grandparents report they are responsible for their grandchildren’s needs.
These older adults need to remain healthy in order to care for these kids.
Vaccines are one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep all of us healthy.
Unfortunately, many adults don’t realize they need to be immunized and consequently many aren’t. That’s why the CDC’s recommendations on vaccinations are so important.
Dropping the current pneumococcal vaccination could make them less accessible, more expensive and lead doctors and other health care providers to not routinely raise the need for the vaccination.
It is imperative that decision makers realize that changes in vaccination recommendations don’t impact a generation in isolation, it impacts their children, grandchildren and neighbors as well.
These healthy connections between generations have kept our country strong. Let’s keep it that way.