Written by P. Humbargar
August is Back-To-School Month for many children in the U.S., and many parents are busy making sure their children’s immunizations are up-to-date. Although the federal government does not impose any immunization laws, individual states require certain vaccinations in order for children to attend public school. State mandated immunizations are meant to not only protect the child who is vaccinated but all children and the public at large.
According to the CDC, “Making sure that children of all ages receive all their vaccinations on time is one of the most important things parents can do to ensure their children’s long-term health—as well as the health of friends, classmates, and others in the community.” Parents who do not vaccinate their children increase the risk of disease to them and to others, specifically, newborns and people with weakened immune systems due to conditions like cancer.
Vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. are rare now thanks to vaccines, but outbreaks can still happen, as diseases are brought in from other countries. These diseases can be serious and even deadly, especially to infants and young children.
Because most of these diseases were virtually eradicated several decades ago, most of today’s parents have no understanding of the death and devastation these diseases inflicted upon the children of previous generations. Never having seen these diseases first-hand, some parents do not take them seriously, and instead, they have acquired the (unsupported) belief that the vaccines do more harm than good.
Serious side effects from vaccines, such as allergic reactions, are extremely rare, and doctors are trained to deal with them. Generally the only side effects, if any, are mild—just some redness and swelling at the injection site that subsides within a few days.
In 1998, a study from the United Kingdom claiming to link the MMR vaccine to autism received a lot of attention in the news and is still at the root of some parents’ fear of vaccinations despite at least a dozen studies since then, which have overwhelmingly failed to show that vaccines cause autism. Additionally, 10 of the study’s 13 authors have withdrawn support for the study, and the journal it was published in retracted it.
Most all medical professionals now believe that the rise in autism is more likely explained by the fact that it is being recognized and diagnosed much more frequently than in the past. And that although the diagnosis often happens around the time vaccinations are given, this is only coincidental—there is no cause and effect. Nonetheless, for some reason, there are parents who still hold on to this pretty much debunked belief and thus choose not to vaccinate their children.
Before making a decision to forego immunizing children against potentially deadly diseases, parents need to become knowledgeable—check the facts, and understand what the actual risks really are. Don’t rely on hearsay from questionable websites or social networking sites.
Some statistics on vaccine-preventable diseases provided by the CDC include the following:
Measles: Before the vaccine, approximately 48,000 people were hospitalized each year in the U.S.; about 1,000 suffered brain damage or deafness, and about 450 died. Today, there are only around 50 cases reported yearly.
Whooping cough (Pertussis): Before the vaccine, around 8,000 deaths were reported yearly. Today, there are less than 50 deaths per year (although there has been an alarming increase in this rate lately among those who have not been vaccinated).
Diphtheria: Before the vaccine, there were between 100,000 and 200,000 cases yearly and as many as 15,000 deaths. Today, there have been only 5 cases reported each year for the past 10 years.
And the list of such vaccine-preventable diseases goes on and on—literally hundreds of thousands of children’s lives have been saved due to vaccines—one of them may very likely have been someone you know, perhaps even your parent or grandparent!
It is important to be informed before making a decision to not immunize. Do the research, and talk to pediatricians and other medical professionals who have dedicated their lives to protecting the health of our nation’s children.
And when a decision must be made to not immunize due to legitimate medical or religious reasons, exemptions are available. In these cases, unvaccinated children are still allowed to attend school but may be prohibited from attending classes in the event of an outbreak.
For additional information about vaccine-preventable diseases and vaccination schedules, visit the CDC website.