In the United States, the CDC recommends that all children follow a vaccine schedule, outlined from birth to 18 years of age, to minimize risk to serious infection and reduce the spread of specific diseases. Childhood vaccines are important because they improve the health of our population’s children, reduce their risk of acquired disabilities or death, and prevent outbreaks of illnesses. Additionally, vaccines are an important element of public health. Expectant mothers can protect their unborn child through their routine vaccines and healthcare practices. Vaccinated members of the community help protect those who cannot be vaccinated due to health conditions, and additional vaccines and resources are available to individuals with compromised immune systems. In face, The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases states, “Approximately 50,000 adults die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases in the US.” So, not only do immunizations help the individual stay healthy, they also elevate the health of the whole population.
Despite this information, there remains some controversy in the United States regarding the effectiveness, safety, and necessity of these vaccines. Much of the hesitancy grew from a fabricated and poorly conducted study released by Dr. Wakefield in 1998. He falsely linked the MMR vaccine to the development of autism, which has led to a concern over the safety of vaccines and a subsequent increase in unimmunizated children. It is important to note that numerous studies have failed to confirm any sort of connection between vaccines and developmental delays or behavioral diagnoses. NY Times explains how Dr.Wakefield’s study was retracted from the publishing journal and he was stripped of his medical license upon recognition of the fallacies included in the claims of the study. Furthermore, concerns that spurred from the public as a result of this dramatic event are clearly addressed in the CDC’s website, citing the CDC’s own research as proof against the theory.
The CDC does a great job of addressing these concerns by explaining that both vaccine-induced immunity and natural immunity are both considered active immunity because they utilize the host’s own immune system to develop antibodies and launch a defensive attack. Despite this information, many parents and patients have questions about the other ingredients contained in the vaccine and how vaccines differ from the real-deal illness. There is a wonderful, plain language parent’s guide on the CDC’s website that not only explains the content of a vaccine (dead versus weakened pathogens and additional content), but it also addresses the patient’s risk of contracting the illness and patient rights regarding immunizations. It is important to note that the diseases we vaccinate against are still very much prevalent in our community. In addition to this, the World Health Organization addresses the importance of global vaccines and the impact it has on disease through their website. They even host an annual World Vaccination Week. For patients and their families to understand the importance of their role in this public health endeavor, the WHO is a great resource. It really puts your individual actions into the context of a collective goal. For instance, did you know that “Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988. Today, only 3 countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan) remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988.”
For families that choose to vaccinate your children, do not fret about the doctor’s visit! Most children dislike shots (as do most adults!) However, there are numerous resources on the web about how to care for your children after their appointment or make the process less stressful. For instance, tips such as modeling behavior by keeping calm and being truthful about the appointment can calm your child’s nerves and prevent unpleasant surprises. There are even suggestions on comforting ways to hold your child during the appointment to reduce stress or struggling during the shot. If you are a parent and you feel that you need more information, please browse the information on the CDC’s website that is specifically aimed at educating parents. Additionally, do not forget to address your child’s physician for further information or advice. For parents that are considering not vaccinating their children, please understand your responsibility fully before making the decision. Know the symptoms of diseases we vaccinate against as well as the potential outcomes. Be aware if these diseases are in your community, especially during an outbreak, and understand the seriousness of contracting these conditions. Knowing your role as a caregiver means that you understand the risks and responsibilities of your choices.
I feel that it is important to include a personal note here. Many parents I talk to feel like we vaccinate against many mild illnesses that are not common in our community, without understanding the very serious complications of some of these diseases. Additionally, for more serious diseases, parents often feel like those things “only happen to someone else”- like these diseases don’t happen in their community or even in our country. It is important to understand how false these assumptions are. In my personal experience in the emergency room (here in the urban USA), I have seen bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis, chickenpox (vericella), mumps, and whooping cough (pertussis). As much as I want to say that our medical care techniques have advanced enough to provide each child with a positive outcome and full recovery, it’s simply not true. We have lost patients to these illnesses, sent many to the ICU, and had many leave with life altering complications from their diseases. Caring for your children is an important responsibility. Being educated on diseases and vaccines is an important element of parenting that should not be overlooked.