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Talking Points series to tackle immunization

By Staff | Mar 4, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Dr. Mary Beth Saunders

The final BIG ARTS Talking Points series will cover “Immunization and Global Health,” with featured speakers Dr. Mary Beth Saunders, director of Lee Health’s Infection Prevention Department, and Dr. Stephanie Stovall, director of pediatric infectious diseases and epidemiology at the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, on March 10 at 4 p.m. at the Strauss Theater.

In our era of stunning technological advances, controversy and misinformation continue to swirl around the basic health question of when, how and even whether a child or adult should be vaccinated against particular infectious diseases. Local experts Saunders and Stovall will tackle the subject, sorting fact from fiction and providing an overview of the current science of immunization.

Medical science has provided both the factual information and the means to combat a wide array of diseases through routine vaccinations. But in parallel with the advances, other technologies – principally the Internet – have allowed the spread of misinformation, speculation and anxiety about basic tools of disease prevention. Add the worry over irruptions of new diseases, such as the current outbreak of a novel coronavirus, and the risks of misinformation and unwarranted panic mount.

“Historically, medical care focused on making diagnoses and curing patients,” Stovall said. “We still do that, but our job also requires convincing people to use the treatments that science provides to prevent disease and death.”

Take something as simple as the annual flu shot. Influenza viruses are continually mutating, which requires the annual updating of an effective vaccine. There were over 6,500 deaths in the United States from the flu in 2017, versus about 1,000 from the coronavirus thus far. Yet only a little over one-third of adults ages 18-49 received a flu shot, and less than half of adults ages 50-64 were vaccinated against the flu. Adults age 65 and over fared better, with over two-thirds receiving the vaccine; but the overall rate of immunization is less than what it should be in an advanced economically-enabled society.

PHOTO PROVIDED Dr. Stephanie Stovall

“Twenty-first century medicine is at a point where many of the diseases that would end in tragedy can be prevented or attenuated if we can protect our most vulnerable populations from effects of misinformation perpetuated by non-scientists,” Stovall said.

In her talk, she will cover the phenomenon of “vaccine hesitancy” and its effect on the health of children and adolescents, the return of previously nearly eradicated diseases, unnecessary deaths and the inability to prevent chronic diseases like cancer.

“Vaccine preventable disease has been among the top 10 achievements for public health in this century,” Saunders said. “The past decade has been marked by many lives saved because of vaccination, substantial declines in preventable diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia and the continued eradication of past devastating diseases such as polio.”

There will be a question-and-answer session following the talk.

Tickets are $20 and include a complimentary wine reception following the lecture.

For tickets, visit www.BIGARTS.org, call 239-395-0900 or visit the box office, at 900 Dunlop Road, Sanibel. The evening of the lecture, tickets will be sold beginning at 3 p.m. at the Strauss Theatre.

The Sanibel & Captiva Trust Company is the sponsor for Talking Points.

The Strauss Theatre is at 2200 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel.