The Hot Topic in Health: Preventative Healthcare
By Jestelle Irizarry
Disneyland, or more recently known as “measles kingdom,” is bringing light to an important consumer healthcare topic: parents’ decisions whether to take advantage of preventive care or not.
Chronic diseases—like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—are responsible for seven of every ten deaths in the United States each year and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending, but Americans are only using preventive care about half of the recommended rate. Even parents with insurance are not getting the proper immunizations for their children and themselves or the check-ups necessary to keep their families healthy.
Thousands of people were exposed to the measles recently, a vaccine preventable virus the U.S. declared eliminated over a decade and a half ago. The current outbreak of the measles, an extremely contagious respiratory disease, proves that vaccines can only protect people if the masses take advantage of them.
In the 1960s, healthcare providers led a widely successful national campaign to educate consumers and encourage them to take advantage of vaccinations, including the measles. Now Americans don’t spend time worrying about the measles because in the 21st century, the virus has not been an issue. When the measles were supposedly “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000, they didn’t suddenly stop existing, but rather the virus no longer had a constant presence. Since, many parents have disregarded recommendations to vaccinate their children and have exercised their right to not do so.
As of February 6, 17 states have reported a total of 121 cases of measles, one third related to the outbreak at Disneyland in California. In 2014, the CDC reported a total of 644 cases of measles in the U.S., 383 of those occurring among an unvaccinated Amish community in Ohio that drew national attention. To compare, between 2001 and 2011, the average number of measles cases reported per year was merely 62. Clearly the measles is once again a virus that concerns the general public.
Besides the measles, the whooping cough virus, another vaccine preventable illness, has been on the rise. The virus is deadly to infants who are either too young to be vaccinated or were vaccinated with the newer version of the vaccine adopted in the 1990s which has proven to be less active than the previous one. Each year, influenza is responsible for almost 36,000 deaths globally, and although the flu vaccine is one of the least effective, if everyone got it the number of deaths would decrease.
The current climate provides the perfect opportunity for healthcare companies to campaign again to raise awareness and educate the public about the benefits of vaccination and remove its associated negative stigma. Although the number of measles cases has dropped worldwide by 75 percent in the last decade, 400 measles related deaths occur every day. The measles is the leading cause of death among children as of 2013, even though the vaccine is the cheapest available. Now is the time for healthcare companies to resurrect the education campaign of the sixties, and encourage the market to seek preventative healthcare. With the market as misinformed and stratified as it is, healthcare companies should enlist agencies who know the current healthcare climate and understand the consumer market. Whether healthcare companies decide to utilize endorsements or release public service announcements to reach the public, they need to send the message that preventive care and immunizations save lives and cost much less than the illnesses they prevent. Advertising continues to pay off in a big way.