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Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Are Back. How Can Public Health Education Programs Help?

Programs that communicate the effectiveness of vaccines and related health benefits to the public, develop educational messages to prevent illness, and provide access to medicines and healthcare services are key.

Adam was 7 years old when he contracted chickenpox, which most people associate with itching and discomfort. But that night, Adam began to show signs of a far more serious infection. By morning, Adam’s kidneys had failed, and virtually every organ in his body had been compromised.1

The varicella virus, commonly known as chickenpox, is one of a handful of vaccine-preventable diseases that have returned in recent years. Others include polio, mumps, measles, and whooping cough. The reason for this resurgence? Public health officials believe that lower vaccination rates are to blame, due to a late ’90s study that linked vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella to autism.2 That study has since been proven to be fraudulent, but many families still have fears about vaccinating their children.

Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Are Back. How Can Public Health Education Programs Help?

By December 1, 2018 there had been 292 individual cases of measles reported in the U.S. – more than double that reported in 2017.3 In addition, nearly 18,000 cases of whooping cough were reported nationwide in 2017.4 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 17 vaccine-preventable diseases:5

  • Chickenpox
  • Diphtheria
  • Flu (influenza)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hib
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Measles
  • Shingles 
  • Meningococcal disease
  • Mumps
  • Pneumococcal disease
  • Polio
  • Rotavirus
  • Rubella
  • Tetanus
  • Whooping cough (pertussis)  

Two key courses of action can help combat the resurgence of vaccine-preventable disease: (1) using public health programs to educate families on the benefits versus actual risks of vaccination, and (2) increasing access to vaccines for populations that don’t have easy access to basic healthcare.

Some of the individuals best prepared for the challenge may be public health professionals. Many traditional and online universities offer public health degree programs that prepare graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to address either or both of these needs. Public health doctoral degree options include a PhD in Public Health, Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), and PhD in Health Education and Promotion; relevant professions include public health program director, health policy advisor, and public health researcher or consultant. At the master’s degree level, the Master of Public Health (MPH) and MS in Health Education and Promotion are excellent choices, especially for anyone interested in a career as an epidemiologist or a public health educator, analyst, or information officer. At the bachelor’s degree level, earning a BS in Public Health can help prepare you for roles like research analyst, health services manager, or community outreach coordinator.

The chickenpox vaccine didn’t become licensed for use in the U.S. until 1995 and so at the time Adam contracted the disease, preventative medication wasn’t an option.6 Adam ended up with a kidney transplant, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, hearing loss, and a host of other medical issues. Today, one quick and simple vaccine would have given Adam a better chance at a lifetime of good health.

Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of a degree program.