Now more than ever, the population of the United States – the “melting pot” of all nations – is a mix of societies, cultures, beliefs, and attitudes that impact the health-care community.
Because of this “cultural gumbo,” few would argue that protection from infectious and communicable diseases is one of the health issues of greatest concern, and controversy.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Some vaccine-preventable diseases, like pertussis (whooping cough) and chickenpox, remain common in the United States. On the other hand, other diseases prevented by vaccines are no longer common in this country because of vaccines. However, if we stopped vaccinating, even the few cases we have in the United States could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases.”
Even though many serious vaccine-preventable diseases are uncommon in the United States, some are common in other parts of the world. Even if your family does not travel internationally, you could come into contact with international travelers anywhere in your community. Kids that are not fully vaccinated and are exposed to a disease can become seriously sick and spread it through a community. Infectious disease was the leading cause of death in children 100 years ago, with diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever and pertussis accounting for most of them. Today the leading causes of death in children less than five years of age are accidents, genetic abnormalities, developmental disorders, sudden infant death syndrome and cancer.
In the U.S., vaccines have reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that once routinely killed or harmed many infants, children, and adults. However, the viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable disease and death still exist and can be passed on to people who are not protected by vaccines. However, immunizations are giving many parents, and even some health professionals, giving a false sense of security about our “immunity” to diseases of the past.
A vast number of articles and studies indicate many parents in America are choosing not to vaccinate their children. Parents’ reasons vary, ranging from economic status, misinformation, religious beliefs, association standards and hearsay. Parents are allowed to “sign off” or “opt out” of vaccinating their children. Vaccination is a controversial subject, and many parents worry about subjecting their children to it. Vaccines have caused a lot of controversy in recent years, often confusing — and scaring — parents about the pros and cons of immunizations. Should you vaccinate your child and protect her from more than a handful of infectious diseases, or are the shots themselves more harmful than helpful?
Many of you are preparing your child(ren) for the beginning of the school year. For some children this will be the start of schooling, which means the school requirements for vaccinations.
How do you make the decision? What do you really understand?
Now that vaccines have virtually eliminated many once-feared diseases, the possibility of vaccine side effects or adverse reactions loom larger in some people’s minds than the diseases that vaccines prevent. Most parents today have never seen a case of diphtheria or measles, and some wonder why their children must receive so many shots. Rumors and misinformation about vaccine safety abound. For example, many parents are concerned that multiple vaccines may weaken or overwhelm an infant’s immune system or that certain vaccines may cause autism, multiple sclerosis or diabetes.
The lack of vaccination has put many children at risk for diseases that are avoidable, including whooping cough and measles. The risk of death for measles is three in 1,000 without vaccination, while the risk of death from the measles vaccination is zero.
Childhood immunizations have a pretty rich history.
By the mid-1980s, there were seven vaccines: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella and polio. Because six of these vaccines were combined into two shots (DTP and MMR), and one, the polio vaccine, was given by mouth, children still received five shots by the time they were 2 years old and not more than one shot at a single visit. Since the mid-1980s, many vaccines have been added to the schedule. Now, children could receive as many as 24 shots by 2 years of age and five shots in a single visit. The result is that the vaccine schedule has become much more complicated than it once was, and children are receiving far more shots than they ever did.
Adolescents, like adults, were recommended to get tetanus boosters every 10 years, most requiring their first booster dose around age 11. Other than this, however, most adolescents did not require additional vaccines unless they missed one in childhood. By 2005, vaccines specifically recommended for adolescents were only recommended for sub-groups of adolescents based on where they lived or medical conditions that they had. However, a new group of vaccines has become available in the latter part of the decade. Vaccines for meningococcus and human papillomavirus (HPV) as well as expanded recommendations for influenza now provide opportunities for adolescents to be protected as they enter their teen years.
Certainly, the number of vaccinations recommended for children has mushroomed over the past two decades. In 1985, children were vaccinated for seven diseases. Now, that number is 16.
What this means is that a child can receive as many as 30 shots by age 6! Most parents dutifully take their infants to the doctor or clinic at the prescribed times to be vaccinated. However, growing numbers of doctors, scientists and parents have become suspicious about the long-term implications of what some consider a national experiment posing as solid science. Vaccines teach your immune system mimicking a natural infection.
No vaccine is perfectly safe or effective. Each person’s immune system works differently, so occasionally a person will not respond to a vaccine. Very rarely, a person may have a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine, such as an allergic reaction that causes hives or difficulty breathing. But serious reactions are reported so infrequently — on the order of 1 in 100,000 vaccinations — that they can be difficult to detect and confirm. More commonly, people will experience temporary side effects, such as fever, soreness, or redness at the injection site. These side effects are, of course, preferable to getting the illness.
It remains unclear whether vaccination levels overall are dropping or not, but at least 95 percent of children must be vaccinated to prevent measles from returning. The disease has become endemic to the U.K., for example, thanks to a vaccination rate that has fallen to 85 percent. Already one child has died in the U.K. Prior to the vaccine’s introduction in the 1960s, as many as 4 million people came down with measles each year and as many as 450 died as well as 4,000 who developed permanent disabilities when the measles inflamed their brains.
Another critical concern is the impact of this “pushback” on participating in the research and clinical trials for new vaccines to fight the diseases we face today. HIV/AIDS; Hep C; HVP; are among the current and future threats to our society. Without practical judgment and consideration, once new vaccines are available, we face the real possibility that much of the misinformation, mistrust, and fear will result in unnecessary suffering, disease, and death.
The decision to vaccinate your child is a personal one. Whatever you decide, it’s important that you have enough information to make a good, sensible decision — one you can live with…literally.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Readers should always consult their healthcare providers to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.