August Is National Immunization Awareness Month

David Diemert, an associate professor of microbiology and immunization expert, talked about why vaccinations are critical to public health.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Always talk to your primary care provider about any vaccinations you may need before traveling abroad. Photo: CDC/ Emily Cramer)
August 17, 2018

By Kristen Mitchell

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, which makes now the perfect time to check in with your primary care provider about keeping your family up to date on  necessary immunizations.

David Diemert, an associate professor of microbiology in the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, is an expert on immunizations. Dr. Diemert and his research partner Jeffrey Bethony were awarded $3 million from the National Institutes of Health last year to test the efficacy of a hookworm vaccine candidate developed and tested at the university.

GW Today spoke with Dr. Diemert about why immunizations are important to public health and why myths about immunizations are dangerous to society.

Q: What kinds of questions should we all be asking our primary care doctors about immunizations?
A: At routine visits, always ask what vaccines are recommended for you, and for your kids if you have young ones. Before going on any overseas trip, make sure to ask about special vaccines that might be indicated based on your itinerary.

Q: There are many myths about immunizations being dangerous. How damaging are these myths to public health?
A: Extremely damaging. Perpetuated myths lead to decreased rates of immunization, which have been directly linked to outbreaks of previously controlled infectious diseases such as measles and mumps.

Q: What are the potential consequences of skipping immunizations or allowing protection to lapse?
A: Skipping immunizations will leave someone at risk for the infection the vaccine is meant to prevent. Depending on the infection, this may lead to serious illness, hospitalization or even death if exposure occurs.  

Q: What kinds of strides has your lab made recently in developing a vaccine for hookworm?
A: Dr. Bethony and I have just started a new phase two trial of one of our hookworm vaccines here at GW. This will test the vaccine’s efficacy in a novel controlled infection model and, if successful, will lead to large field efficacy studies in high-prevalence areas.

Q: What kind of health impact would a hookworm vaccine have in high-prevalence regions?
A: Elimination of the hookworm-associated anemia that is so common in these areas  and reduction of transmission so that fewer and fewer people are infected over time. It would be a huge advance.

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