Working as a nurse in the Communicable Disease Program at the Halton Region Health Department gives me a chance to promote the health of others and prevent vaccine preventable diseases. You’ve been hearing a lot in the news recently about the importance of getting the flu vaccine, but over the past few months, I personally have spent a great deal of time trying to increase the number of pre-teens and teens who get immunized against serious diseases such as hepatitis B, meningococcal infection, and the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Immunizations do prevent illness. Unfortunately, too many people are missing out on the benefit of vaccination. I ask myself what happened to, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” (Ben Franklin)?
When it comes to disease and illness it is easy to reassure ourselves by saying “It couldn’t happen to me or someone I know, the risk is so low.” Even when we see pictures in the newspaper, or on TV of those who are sick, it still seems like a distant threat. But it can happen to us or someone we love. It does happen. This recently hit home for me when talking to a friend at work. She candidly shared how her aunt died recently, at the age of 64. She was one of the approximately 1300 victims of cervical cancer that are diagnosed in Canada each year. When her battle with cancer was lost, she left behind her husband who was her high school sweetheart, children, a grandchild, and countless close friends. She also missed the birth of her second grandchild, who was born just after she died.
My colleague not only reflected on the loss of a wonderful woman, but on how unfortunate it was that when her aunt was young she did not have the chance to prevent the cancer that killed her through a simple shot in the arm. But when her aunt was young there was no vaccine to prevent HPV infection like today. HPV infection is responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers. Girls in Ontario have been lucky enough to have been offered vaccination against HPV when they are in Grade 8 since 2007. Even those girls who may have missed their HPV vaccination in Grade 8 (a series of three doses for complete protection) have another chance to receive this vaccine through a catch-up program. When my daughters are in Grade 8 I plan to have them get the HPV vaccine (Gardasil). I don’t want them to get sick; I don’t want to say, “Could’a, should’a, didn’t.”
To find out more information about protecting yourself and family from vaccine preventable diseases go to www.halton.ca/immunization or call 311 for more information.
Nicole Fawcett is a public health nurse with 16 years of nursing experience. Nicole lives in Halton with her husband and has two young daughters who keep their mom’s life infused with energy and far from boring.