Local experts stress the need to tend to vaccination shots—including for reasons that might surprise you

Noting measles outbreaks and high incidents of vaccine-preventable cancer, the Florida medical community is urging parents to adhere to immunization schedules as part of National Immunization Awareness Month.

Florida health officials confirmed four cases of measles in June, according to Deborah Ann Mulligan, professor of pediatrics at the Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern University.

Two unvaccinated Floridians, including one who lives in Miami-Dade, contracted the disease while traveling internationally. The two other cases were confirmed in nonresidents visiting the state. “The United States declared it eliminated in 2000,” Mulligan says. “But since then, there have been instances such as these outbreaks, mostly among unvaccinated individuals and groups that shun vaccination.”

Bindu Mayi, associate professor of microbiology at NSU’s College of Medical Sciences, says her passion for disease prevention is inspired by her childhood in India, where her twin sister died from a skin infection and several classmates suffered from polio’s debilitating effects. One boy contracted measles, which led to encephalitis. Now in his early 50s, he cannot care for himself.

“There will always be a pool of vulnerable people who cannot get vaccinated, such as newborns, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems,” she says. “It’s up to the rest of us to show responsibility and prevent the spread of disease.”

Doing so is also a matter of public policy.

In addition to polio and the measles, Florida law requires children entering public and private schools to be vaccinated for diphtheria, mumps, tetanus, chickenpox, hepatitis B, and diseases such as meningitis, bloodstream infections, pneumonia and ear infections. The immunization rate is 95 percent.

This summer, the American Cancer Society has raised alarm about another significant health problem—six vaccine-preventable cancers caused by the sexually transmitted disease HPV (human papillomavirus). In June, ACS launched Mission: HPV Cancer Free, a campaign to eliminate such cancers, starting with cervical.

HPV causes four other reproductive cancers: anal, penile, vaginal and vulvar. It also causes about 80 percent of throat cancers, says Carlos Perez-Mitchell, medical director for head and neck surgical oncology at Memorial Healthcare System.

About 80 million people in the United States are infected with HPV, and another 14 million people, including teens, become infected annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus causes 31,500 cancers annually in men and women. The vaccine, which became available in 2006, can prevent about 30,000 of those cancers from ever developing.

The goal of the campaign is to have 80 percent of 13-year-old boys and girls in the United States fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by 2026. It’s an ambitious goal, given lack of understanding among the general population. In 2016, only 7 percent of children in Florida had completed the three-shot series by age 13.

In January, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami) introduced the Women’s Cancer Prevention Act, but it died in the Health Policy Committee. “While it didn’t get much traction in the Capitol this time around, the bill is likely to pop up again next year as other states begin to pass and consider similar legislation,” Mulligan says.

Meanwhile, Perez-Mitchell’s advice to parents is direct: “It’s not a green light to have casual sex. It’s about saving your children’s lives.”

The Insider
News, notes and events connected to South Florida’s health, wellness and medical worlds

Free back-to-school vaccines: Florida Department of Health in Broward County is offering immunizations for children ages 4 to 18 inside Lauderhill Mall: Aug. 1-3, 6-10, and 13-17, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Aug. 2, 6, 9, and 13, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.; and Aug. 15-17, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Parents should bring vaccination records; children should eat a meal or a snack before being vaccinated. (broward.floridahealth.gov)

Family fare: DOH-Broward is hosting a Resource Fair and providing immunizations inside Lauderhill Mall on Aug. 11, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The first 100 children to be vaccinated will receive a free bicycle helmet. Families also will receive complimentary school supplies.

Brain injury recovery: South Florida Integrative Health recently opened in Miami to treat people with brain injury and other mental, physical and neurological disorders. The practice focuses on improving neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain and spinal cord to reorganize themselves to create new neural connections. (southfloridaintegrative.com, 786.800.2888)

Breast cancer prevention: Boca Raton Regional Hospital this summer is expanding its early breast cancer detection services across South Florida. The Kathy Krickstein Pressel MammoVan, which has provided 13,000 mammograms and diagnosed 42 women with breast cancer since 2010, has been upgraded with the latest 3D mammography technology. Also, the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute is open the first Saturday of each month to provide screening and diagnostic mammograms, breast ultrasounds with same-day results, and bone density tests. (brrh.com, 561.955.4700)