Although it’s natural for parents to want to protect their children, the recent debate in the news regarding vaccines has led to rumors and misunderstandings. Our children deserve the best medical care we can provide. Vaccines are a part of that care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that healthy children get vaccinated against 14 different diseases by age 2 plus an annual flu shot. The government supports vaccines so strongly that an uninsured child can receive shots for free. "Immunizations are simply one of the greatest public-health achievements," says Mary Glodé, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado in Denver. Vaccination is safe and one of the greatest health developments of the 20th century. Illness, including rubella, diphtheria, smallpox, polio, and whooping cough, are prevented by vaccination and children enjoy immunity against these diseases. Despite this, a growing number of parents are suspicious of vaccines and a percentage of these are strongly opposed. Much of the opposition is fueled by rumors. It’s time to look at the medical facts and make informed choices.
The national immunization rate has remained stable over the past decade (76 percent of children ages 19 to 35 months were up-to-date on all of their shots in 2008), that's still short of the government's goal of 80 percent. In some cases, a rising number of parents are delaying shots for their kids or skipping certain ones altogether, citing religious or philosophical exemptions from state laws that require kids to be vaccinated in order to attend school. As a result, there have been recent outbreaks of serious diseases that vaccines had virtually wiped out in the U.S., including measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), and haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), which was once the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in kids under 5.
Infectious disease specialists explain that 80 to 90 percent of a community should be vaccinated. If not, the community can become more susceptible to the disease and babies who aren't old enough to get the shot are at the most risk of contracting the disease.
Pediatricians offices are being hit with hard questions and choices as a direct result of the vaccination debate. Parents sometimes struggle with assessing the risks involved because they haven’t had experience with the diseases which vaccines prevent. Pediatricians, in general, recommend vaccines for all children to prevent serious diseases such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough. And up until recently, these diseases had been eradicated in the United States. Most of the recent measles outbreaks were traced to individuals who visited a country where this and other vaccine-preventable diseases are common. They could easily become widespread again if more people refuse vaccines. But what about the risks? If the FDA determines that a vaccine poses a real risk to more than a tiny percentage of children, the agency won't let it be used. So, the risk is minimal while the benefits far outweigh any potential side effects.
Although some doctors are refusing to take on patients whose families don't plan to immunize, it's important for parents and pediatricians to communicate on this important topic. Most pediatricians remind parents that their own children receive(d) vaccines and they wouldn’t do it any other way. Vaccines protect babies' developing immune system. If delayed, children are left unprotected against dangerous diseases at the time when they're most vulnerable. Fortunately, most parents do decide to vaccinate their children and provide them with the immunity against dreaded childhood disease.