The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that the United States is amidst the worst measles outbreak since 1992, although the disease was declared eliminated in 2000. As one of the most developed countries in the world, this is an alarming stat that all health care professionals should be concerned with, including dentists. This dilemma initially comes off as an isolated event, yet it is a symptom of a more systemic problem that our society faces: how our country’s access to information impacts public health.
In 2013, the Pew Research Center estimated that about 60% of internet users have looked for health information online. A September 2018 study from the American Journal of Public Health states that antivaccine advocates have a significant presence on social media, and that exposure to negative information about vaccines is associated with increased vaccine hesitancy and delay. This is an issue that is not just suited for public health officials, but one all should be working to solve.
Simply communicating our concerns to our patients, friends and colleagues in any form of media or face-to-face can make a difference. Through public health, dentists have an opportunity to connect with other health care professionals to work on a variety of issues. In a more united approach, not only are we making our communities healthier, we can collaborate with our colleagues in science to better understand and respect each other’s professions.
An example of this collaboration comes from Oregon, where Governor Kate Brown has signed a bill that allows dentists to offer any vaccine to patients. In a May 8, 2019, article published on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s news site, the dean of the OHSU School of Dentistry said he believes that this legislation will improve vaccination rates, especially for the flu. The article also stated that the School of Dentistry is working with the Oregon Board of Dentistry, the Oregon Board of Pharmacy, Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Dental Association on how training will be executed to dentists and dental students.
Similarly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that ends exemptions from vaccines for non-medical reasons. He was quoted in a news release from the New York Office of the Governor as saying, “The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe. While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health and by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks.”
As we’ve seen with the current measles outbreak, we must emphasize the importance of evidence-based research when it comes to not only vaccines but any form of medical and dental treatment given to our patients.
~Richard Rodriguez, Texas A&M ’21