Recently, some of my parents have raised questions about whether their child should be vaccinated. This worries me. It seems to have become fashionable among certain groups to question the need for vaccination and raise doubts about their safety. Certain celebrities, who have absolutely no training in vaccines or public health, spend a good deal of time on talk shows and in magazine pages spouting their opinions and conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, this influences some parents and harms us all. While I listen carefully to every concern, my answer is almost always “yes, your child should be vaccinated, and on schedule”. Vaccination against many childhood diseases is perhaps the single most important preventive measure we have to protect your child and the other children in the community. In countries with effective vaccination programs, dreadful diseases like mumps, measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, Haemophilus influenza and pneumococcal disease are rarely seen anymore. While younger parents may have never met or heard of a child with these infections, just ask your grandparents what it was like to live with the threat of these diseases. Ironically, this may be part of the problem. If my parents had ever seen even a single child with measles or polio, I think they would never hesitate to have their children vaccinated. In many developing countries, hundreds of thousands of children still tragically become sick or die from vaccine preventable disease every year. A good example is the outbreak of paralytic polio in Syria when civil war kept the vaccination programs from functioning. Trust me when I say that the parents of these children would never refuse a vaccination for their child if one was offered.
Measles Cases in U.S. Reach a 20-Year High
Recently in the US, there have been increasingly large outbreaks of whooping cough and measles, and the vast majority of these cases occur in unvaccinated children. As of May 23, there were 288 confirmed cases in the United States — more than in all of 2013, and more than in the equivalent period of any year since 1994. The measles virus, which is highly contagious, usually causes only a fever and a rash. But it can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, deafness and death. An unvaccinated American child who develops measles has about a one in 500 chance of dying, even with hospital care. Eighty-five percent of this year’s cases were in people not vaccinated because of religious, philosophical or personal objections. Sometimes parents suggest to me that since other children are vaccinated, their children are at lower risk of infection and so don’t need to be vaccinated. I think this is a very selfish way of thinking. We all live in a community and our children interact with each other every day. What we do ( or do not do), also matters to everyone else. To stop transmission of many diseases, a large majority of the population, often more than 90%, must be properly vaccinated. When the numbers drop below this, outbreaks happen and we all suffer. Please make sure your children are fully vaccinated and according to schedule. Refusing or delaying vaccinations puts your child and others in our community at risk.