Oprah Suffered A Vaccine-Preventable Illness. Now She's Promoting Vaccines
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(CINCINNATI – September 24, 2019) - Oprah Winfrey recently appeared on the Ellen show talking about her recent bout with pneumonia, a relatively common, albeit potentially quite dangerous, infection of the lungs. She described how she had initially thought it was just a cold. But her unrelenting symptoms of coughing and 'chest rattling' led her first to an emergency room, and then to a lung specialist. Thankfully, Oprah is better now. And thankfully, she received excellent care, including close monitoring, antibiotics, and likely inhalers as well. In her chat with Ellen, she voices the importance of getting flu shots and pneumonia shots.
For those of us in healthcare, this is not radically new information. We are just entering this year's flu season, already having seen at least one child die from the flu. The flu shot is recommended to all people ages 6 months and older. Every year. Period. But what about the pneumonia shot? That one doesn't usually make it to the headlines. Until Oprah had pneumonia, that is. The pneumonia vaccine is not actually a vaccine that prevents pneumonia per se, as pneumonia can be caused by a multitude of viruses and bacteria. But it does prevent infection from 13 to 23 types of the bacteria pneumococcus, a powerful organism that can knock anybody for a loop. The PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 13) is recommended to infants and children, and adults ages 65 years and older; the PCV23 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 23) is recommended to infants and young children, and adults ages 65 and over who are at risk for pneumonia, or have a chronic illness.
Oprah just turned 65 this past January. While she hasn't proclaimed whether or not she's had the PCV13, the PCV23, or neither, nor whether or not she's had the flu shot, she does have a history of supporting other celebrities most known to physicians as vocal anti-vaxxers. Perhaps most notorious is Oprah's promotion of Jenny McCarthy back in 2007, whereby she gave McCarthy a platform on her talk show to talk about how her son's autism symptoms were triggered by his receiving the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Ms. McCarthy has been one of the loudest celebrity voices of the antivaxx movement, which only continues to thrive today.
Because of the inaccuracies and downright falsehoods in linking MMR vaccines to autism, the critical number of children receiving this vaccine in the United States has dropped to such a low number that there continue to be measles outbreaks nearly weekly. In August 2019, the United Kingdom lost its "measles free" status according to the WHO, and the U.S. is not far behind.
Celebrity endorsements regarding wellness products, weight loss regimes, and health maintenance are nothing new, but continue to carry more power than most doctors, nurses, or even health organizations can claim. Perhaps a shout out for shots by one of the most powerful voices in the media will change some vaccine-hesitant minds this season. Or perhaps it wont.
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