Do we take vaccines for granted in the US?

ONE blogger Amy Graff just returned from a trip to Ghana with ONE. This piece was originally printed on The BabyCenter Blog.

Last week, Ghana was the first African country to roll out two new vaccines simultaneously to protect children from the continent’s deadliest infant diseases, rotavirus and pneumonia.

Everyone in this country was celebrating.

A colorful full-page ad promoting the campaign appeared in the national newspaper.

A parade float waving around a big banner reading “2 More Vaccines for Happier Healthier Children” drifted down city streets. Music was blaring and people were dancing atop the flat.

On the official launch date, April 26, a three-hour long ceremony at Independence Square in Accra commemorated the event.

A brass band, a drumming circle, scads of school children, mothers and their babies, village chiefs in traditional dress, dozens of international guests, and the press gathered around a stage where First Lady Mrs. Ernestina Naadu Mills sat under a shade tent. Next to hear sat Seth Berkeley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations), which is helping fund the vaccines along with the Ghanaian government.

“No child should die from a disease that can easily be prevented by a simple shot in the arm or a drop in the mouth,” Berkley shouted out to a cheering crowd.

Many others spoke:

“Vaccines are the most successful and cost effective intervention in the world,” Professor Fred Binka, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Ghana, said.

“Over the past 50 years child death have been reduced by 70 percent worldwide,” Cheryl Anderson, USAID’s Ghana Mission Director, said.

“The future of our country lies in the health of our children,” said Ghana’s First Lady Ernestina Naadu Mills, the final speaker.

As I sat there watching the spectacle I couldn’t help but think about the attitude toward vaccines in the United States. Many parents see vaccinations as a nuisance that makes their babies fussy and require special visits to the doctor. Some parents even go as far to skip their children’s vaccines because they fear side effects or they don’t see disease as a risk. While overall vaccination rates are high in the US, 40 percent of parents say they have intentionally skipped or delayed a shot for their kids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Are we taking vaccines for granted in the US? Have we lost sight of their medical powers?

In Ghana, people understand the risk of disease. “In 2008, the last year for which full data are available, more than 54,000 Ghanian children died before they had reached their fifth birthday. Public health officials say 20 percent of those deaths were from pneumonia and diarrhea,” according to Reuters.

In rural villages and urban slums, people know what deadly and disabling diseases look like because their friends or relatives have lost a child, or they’ve watched their own children fight for their lives. When a child is limp and dehydrated and suffering from a severe case of rota virus, a mother living in a village that’s 20 miles down a dirt road can’t easily reach a medical clinic.

In Ghana, vaccines aren’t a nuisance. They are shots of life-saving gold and hope for the next generation. And they’re the best way to fight disease.

Follow Amy Graff on Twitter at @BayAreaMoms.