Back to Top Skip to main content

Vaccines: A public health success story

Tech Sgt. Joseph Anthony, medical technician with the 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, administers a vaccination to a member of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 336 Engineering Company Command and Control, Chemical Radiological and Nuclear Response Enterprise Team at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, April 11, 2019. Department of Defense-issued vaccinations are used to prevent a variety of diseases that military members may encounter in the course of their duties. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joshua J. Seybert) Air Force Tech Sgt. Joseph Anthony, medical technician with the 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, administers a vaccination to a member of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 336 Engineering Company Command and Control, Chemical Radiological and Nuclear Response Enterprise Team at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, April 11, 2019. Department of Defense-issued vaccinations are used to prevent a variety of diseases that military members may encounter in the course of their duties. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joshua J. Seybert)

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Immunizations | Immunization Healthcare | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Throughout U.S. history, people have benefited from improvements in the field of public health. The availability of clean water, the development of sewage systems, and other effective interventions worked to cut the rate of disease in entire segments of the population at relatively low cost. Vaccination is an intervention that has proved effective in terms of cost and effort in protecting the population from disease.

Individuals clearly benefit from the disease protection offered by vaccinations. In addition, if vaccination levels are high enough within a population, protection may be extended to those unable to be vaccinated, either due to a medical restriction or because they are too young. This is because without enough susceptible individuals acting as “carriers,” the disease can’t effectively be transmitted from person to person. The ideal situation is when the disease is eradicated. This has only happened once in recorded human history, with smallpox. We need enough participation in vaccination programs so both individuals and society can enjoy the benefits of freedom from disease.

As a scientist, the recent backlash against vaccines and decision by some parents not to have their children vaccinated concerns me. The use of vaccines is a societal process of risk and benefit, not only for individuals but for everyone. We have a basic tenet in society: balancing an individual’s right to choose with that person’s duty to protect him or herself, any children, other loved ones, and society as a whole.

Some of the information circulating in today’s media about vaccines isn’t scientifically based; instead, it’s based on emotion. Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 because people were vaccinated against it at such high rates that there was no continuous disease transmission. Measles is now making a comeback as a substantial portion of the population has chosen not to be vaccinated against it. Approximately 1 per 1,000 individuals who gets measles will have a serious adverse outcome that can include life-long disability or death. Neurological complications can occur from measles – it’s a potentially dangerous disease that’s completely preventable.

A complicating issue for society is that some individuals who would normally take a vaccine for some diseases can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. They’re either too young or have an immune deficiency or some other limiting factor. These people are now being exposed to unnecessary risk by others who have declined to take a vaccine because they have a belief against it for whatever reason.

Of course, measles isn’t the only disease that can be controlled by vaccinations. Others include:

Mumps. We know that mumps often doesn’t cause as many problems as measles long term, but mumps does have serious potential consequences. There was a recent outbreak of mumps among active-duty personnel. This is likely because the mumps portion of the MMR vaccine isn’t as effective initially as the measles or rubella portions, and even in those who have an initial immunity to mumps, the protection declines more rapidly than the other portions over time. There’s no current recommendation or policy to revaccinate people against mumps, except during a mumps outbreak, so mumps still occurs.

Whooping cough (pertussis). This disease more often causes complications and serious diseases in children. We have policies for certain DoD-run activities, such as day care centers, requiring individuals to be vaccinated against pertussis. The policies were put in place primarily because of the potential for children to spread it to other children, with potentially serious complications.

Hepatitis A. This disease is most commonly transmitted through contaminated food or water. It is currently a routine childhood vaccine. We vaccinate all service members for hepatitis A.

Influenza. Every year we offer an influenza vaccine. We require all service members to get it, and we offer it to all beneficiaries. The “flu shot” is especially important for populations targeted by CDC as “higher risk,” including children from six months to about 9 years of age and pregnant women. The CDC has recommended that everyone get the vaccine, but public health professionals struggle to reach a rate as high as 50 percent. Other than for service members, the decision of whether or not to receive the influenza vaccine remains with the individual. While we provide guidance and counseling to assist them, the individual must balance any concerns about the vaccine with the potential benefits of not getting flu.

Additional vaccinations are critical in the military, beginning in basic training when large numbers of individuals from around the country are housed together. The adenovirus vaccine is given because this upper respiratory infection can cause significant lost time during training, and on rare occasion it can have more severe consequences, including death.

Other vaccines are required for military personnel because of their occupations or the potential risks they might face – like anthrax and smallpox. Some vaccines are given to warfighters as protection against diseases we don’t worry about in the United States; these diseases, including meningitis and yellow fever, cause problems elsewhere. Our service members must be as ready as possible at all times, and a medically ready force must be free of potentially disabling and disability-producing diseases. At this time, vaccines are among the most effective tools we have to reduce the risk of a service member acquiring a preventable disease.

Regarding vaccines, the military follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for the general population, except in the specific cases just mentioned where vaccines are required for military reasons.

In a sense, the effectiveness of vaccines to control and eliminate diseases causes a problem: Vaccines are a victim of their own success. Many people think they don’t need to protect themselves anymore, that the diseases eradicated here are now somebody else’s problem in another part of the world. The current measles outbreaks demonstrate the flaw in this reasoning. Our emphasis in public health in general is that vaccines are good, and the need for them is ongoing. The vaccines we use are proven safe and effective. Any risk from a vaccine pales in comparison to the benefit to the individual and to society. The scientific evidence is clear: Vaccines are a public health success.

You also may be interested in...

Preventing seasonal influenza

Article
11/13/2019
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jaqueline Mbugua and members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Medical Group traveled to the Roxy Theater on Joint Base Cape Cod to provide flu shots to Airmen Nov. 2, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Swanson).

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Immunization Healthcare | Immunizations

The Defense Health Agency participates in AUSA 2019 annual meeting

Article
10/18/2019
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, DHA Director, discusses upcoming Military Health System changes designed to improve the readiness of combat forces during a seminar held at the Association of the United States Army 2019 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.  Lt. Gen. Place explained how DHA is standardizing systems to improve healthcare across the enterprise.  (DHA Photo by Hannah Wagner)

Focus on quality care, innovation at home and on the battlefield

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Preventive Health

Army distributes 1.5 million flu vaccines

Article
10/10/2019
Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Alexander Wrigel (right), a medic assigned to Task Group 68.6, forward deployed to Camp Lemonnier, administers a flu shot to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Hector Ubinas. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joe Rullo)

Five to twenty percent of people in the U.S. are affected by the flu each season

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare | Immunizations | Medical Logistics

The Head, Hand, and Heart of Women’s Health

Article
10/4/2019
Maintaining peak health is critical for all military personnel. This month, we focus on women whose health concerns and symptoms may be different from those in men. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Roger Jackson)

Health is universal for military personnel and civilians, but some health concerns affect women differently. Here are a few examples.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Preventive Health | Women's Health

Women's Health Month: Take ownership of health, wellness issues

Article
10/1/2019
Navy Cmdr. Francesca Cimino, M.D. (standing) confers with a colleague in the Family Medicine department at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. (Courtesy photo)

Regular cancer screenings are vital, but there's much more to longevity

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Women's Health

Autumn ushers in season of falling under the weather with flu

Article
9/26/2019
A bronze bench and statue near the America Building at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, memorializes military dependent Trevor Lin. The 7-year-old's death in the fall of 2009 was attributed to influenza.  (Photo courtesy of Walter Reed-Bethesda)

Health care experts: Everyone 6 months and older should get vaccine

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare | Immunizations

DoD, HHS implement Executive Order to modernize flu vaccines

Article
9/25/2019
Health care experts recommend that everyone 6 months and older – including the elderly, chronically ill people, and expectant mothers – receive the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available. (DoD photo)

New task force aims to increase efficiency, effectiveness

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare | Immunizations

Water and sports drinks, what to drink, how much and when

Article
8/21/2019
Staff Sgt. Shaun Martin, a combat medic assigned to Blanchfield Army Community Hospital's LaPointe Army Medical Home on Fort Campbell, drinks from a 16-ounce bottle of water to maintain his hydration for optimal performance. On average, the Army recommends men should consume about 100 ounces of fluid (3 liters) each day, and women should aim for about 70 ounces (2 liters) for baseline hydration. In hot and humid environments and during physical activity, more is needed to maintain hydration — about one ounce per pound of body weight. To reach your goal, drink regularly and frequently, even if you are not thirsty to avoid dehydration. Water is usually the best choice over coffee, soda, energy drinks and alcohol because those beverages can pull water from the body and promote dehydration. (U.S. Army photo by Maria Yager)

Performance suffers from even small amounts of dehydration

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health

Five tips for back-to-school vaccinations

Article
8/19/2019
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Ayla Soltren, a 5th Battalion Army Reserve Career Division counselor, collects school supplies with her daughter, Lana, at a Back to School Info Fair hosted by the 6th Force Support Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Aug. 3, 2019. Another tradition of the season is making sure vaccinations are up to date to keep students healthy and protected. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan C. Grossklag)

Keeping children up-to-date on vaccinations protects them from vaccine-preventable infections that can be spread throughout schools and day care centers.

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Children's Health

For healthy older adults, new shingles vaccine is worth the wait

Article
8/16/2019
A pharmacist prepares a dose of the shingles vaccine to be administered at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital's Town Center Pharmacy, Fort Campbell, Kentucky. (U.S. Army photo by Maria Yager)

Availability has improved across the MHS, experts say

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health

Three steps for a successful end-of-summer blow out

Article
8/14/2019
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Mario Cardenas, with Provost Marshal's Office, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, prepares lunch for the H&HS Barbecue Cook-off at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Hiatt)

In just three stages, any military family can have a fun-filled welcome party for fall

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Summer Safety

Get kids ready for back to school with preventive health care

Article
8/8/2019
Don’t wait to take command of your children’s health. Prioritize preventive exams and vaccinations before the school year begins. Preventive services, routine immunizations, and health screenings are the best ways to make sure your kids are healthy and ready to hit the books. (U.S. Air Force photo by L.A. Shively)

Preventive services, routine immunizations, and health screenings are the best ways to make sure your kids are healthy and ready to hit the books

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Children's Health

The kissing bug and Chagas disease

Article
8/1/2019
Adult kissing bugs are mostly active in the warmer months, from May to October. Kissing bugs develop into adults after a series of five life stages as nymphs, and both nymphs and adults feed on blood. Kissing bugs feed on humans as well as wild and domestic animals and pets. They can live between one to two years. (Photo by Texas.gov)

Chagas disease comes from a single-celled parasite that lives in the digestive tract of many species of kissing bugs

Recommended Content:

Bug Week: July 27 - August 2 | Preventive Health

Tick Facts: Dangers at the height of tick season

Article
7/31/2019
A tick like this one, seen at 10x magnification, can spread a number of dangerous pathogens during the warm-weather months. (Photo by Cornel Constantin)

Many diseases are transferred to humans by ticks — Lyme is the most common, but several others, described here, are worth knowing about

Recommended Content:

Bug-Borne Illnesses | Bug Week: July 27 - August 2 | Tick-Borne Illnesses | Health Readiness | Preventive Health | Public Health

Zapping mosquitoes from the inside out

Article
7/29/2019
While chemical mosquito population control measures have been used with some degree of success, they are toxic to other insect populations and to the health of humans. A different angle of defense has emerged, which is genetic modification of the mosquito itself, making it transgenic. Transgenic mosquitoes are unable to transmit a pathogen, such as malaria, due to their altered genetic makeup. (DoD photo)

Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying at summer barbecues. In many parts of the world, they carry pathogens for Zika, dengue, yellow fever and malaria, the most devastating of mosquito-borne diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 440,000 people died in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 from malaria, contracted from the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Protecting U.S. military personnel who continue to serve in this part of world is critical.

Recommended Content:

Bug Week: July 27 - August 2 | Mosquito-Borne Illnesses | Zika Virus | Preventing Mosquito-Borne Illnesses | Preventive Health | Innovation | Medical Research and Development | Deployment Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 4

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.