For many decades, we’ve thought about vaccines as a battle of science catching up with disease.
Conquering polio or measles was about finding the vaccine that would protect human bodies from those diseases, and then distributing those vaccines broadly enough to create immunity across the population.
However, there have been recent outbreaks of diseases that call into question this understanding. In places like the US and Europe, where the vaccines are established and the distribution is strong, we’ve seen a recent backsliding, with outbreaks of diseases like measles affecting communities. For instance, Washington State has had 71 cases of measles, just in the last few months.
So what are we to learn, as healthcare providers and leaders? And is there any way to win?
These outbreaks are of such concern, in fact, that there was a congressional hearing recently to explore the causes and potential fixes for these outbreaks.
Saad Omer, MBBS, MPH, PhD, from the Emory Vaccine Center, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that to battle new outbreaks, funding is needed not just for vaccines and research — but also for communication with the public about vaccines.
The biggest chink in the armor of our protection against these diseases is actually misinformation about vaccines, not limitations of the vaccines themselves. We all know about the concerns that boiled up in recent years about the supposed link between vaccines and autism. As Fierce Healthcare summarizes, “A paper published in The Lancet more than 20 years ago was long ago retracted after the author admitted to falsifying the information, but the concerns among many parents have persisted.”
This context shows clearly that in this case, protection against disease is about more than just science and treatment -- it's about the emotions, fears, and ideals of human beings. Whatever the science shows, if a mom believes the vaccine will cause autism, her child won't receive it. John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH, who is Washington's secretary of health said, “We need to be looking at how it is we get to the hearts and minds of people around vaccines and to not put science on the shelf."
Healthcare can't be distilled to a procedure, a recommendation, a scientific finding, or a single intervention. It's a messy, complex art that involves the hearts, minds, bodies, and social context. Which is exactly why healthcare collaboration can't just be secure text messages between two providers. It needs to allow the complex, long-term interactions of a whole medical team, across the continuum of care, and over time.
Hybrid store-and-forward telemedicine is a technology that supports this very human way of caring. And when the human context is respected -- it means that the science can succeed.