Be a Super Hero in Your Community

Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health

Every fall, my twins excitedly walk into our local health clinic to be vaccinated against influenza. Yes, you read it correctly… they are thrilled to receive the flu vaccine. Ever since they were little I spoke of how immunizations transformed them into modern-day superheroes. While they may not have super powers like the ones seen on the big screen, the ability to fight against deadly viruses and protect others in the community becomes their secret weapon.

One of the greatest medical advancements in the history of mankind is arguably the creation of the vaccine. For example, smallpox, an extremely contagious and deadly virus, was declared eradicated worldwide in 1990 following a global immunization campaign. Continuing this success, measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000 after continued transmission of the disease waned. However, this status is currently under threat. Despite the overwhelming research that showcases the importance of vaccines, vaccine hesitancy has reached an all-time high, prompting the World Health Organization to declare it as one of the top ten threats to global health. That’s because whether or not an individual chooses to get vaccinated actually impacts their entire community.

In any given population, there are people who are not able to get vaccinated, perhaps because they are too young or they have a medical condition preventing them. In order for those members to be protected, a certain percentage needs to be vaccinated. However, as misinformation spreads and vaccinations no longer become a priority, this number declines. It is clear a new, innovative approach to vaccinations is desperately needed. This could mean improving the conversations around vaccines or looking for novel ways of reaching the community.

Through a Jiann-Ping Hsu College Of Public Health classroom project, in collaboration with the South Central Health District, vaccinations were administered to local, rural communities through drive-thru flu clinics. Drive-thru clinics are exactly what they sound like. You roll up to a clinic, roll down your window, and receive a vaccine from the comfort of your car. This exercise has helped communities prepare for potential emergencies, as well as deliver a vaccine that people don’t often prioritize.

Through each individual act of vaccination, healthy members of the community can limit the spread of the disease and keep others safe… the true definition of a hero. Parents, caregivers, and health care providers have an excellent opportunity to reframe the conversation around vaccinations for both the benefit of the individual and the community. Take care of yourself and be a hero in your community today.

— Jessica Smith Schwind, Ph.D., MPH, Assistant Professor, Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Environmental Health