Guest Writer Dr. Marilee Gallagher - Why Immunize?

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One of the commitments that we make as parents is to protect our children. We insist that they are restrained in the car, we childproof our homes, we lock up our caustic substances, and generally try to keep them from harm.

One other way to protect our children is to immunize them against diseases that my harm them or even kill them.  The fact that some parents refuse this protection for their children baffles me.  Why would someone take the chance that their child could die?

We know that immunizations work.  I had two cousins who had polio and thank heavens that I have never had to make that diagnosis in one of my patients.  It is a terrifying disease. The advent of the polio vaccine in the early 1950’s has made polio virtually extinct in the United States. 

When I first began practice in 1980 we would see numerous cases of bacterial meningitis every winter.  The introduction of the HIB vaccine in the mid 1980’s decreased the incidence of Hemophilus Influenza Type B meningitis by 95% in 2 years.  We have seen similar decreases in invasive Pneumococcal bacterial disease following the introduction of the PCV7 and now PCV13 vaccines.

A recent article in Pediatrics entitled “Near Elimination of Varicella Deaths in the US after implementation of the Vaccination Program” reports a 92% decrease in the deaths from chicken pox since 2005.

The largest controversy surrounding vaccination is the MMR vaccine.  People who think that this vaccine causes autism have not done their homework.  The original article published in the Lancet in the 1990’s  has been rescinded by 7 of the 8 authors.  However, as a result of that article, Great Britain stopped giving the Measles vaccine to all of their children.  The most tragic part of this “experiment” is that there was a huge epidemic of measles causing significant morbidity and a 0.1% mortality rate.  Even more tragic was that the diagnosis of autism did not decrease over that period and , in fact, it increased.  For parents who are still skeptical, the recent United States Supreme Court ruling has a bibliography of 800 journal articles negating any connection between MMR and autistic spectrum disease.  Furthermore, a study of over 600 children with autism has shown that there is a 19% chance of autism in younger siblings, a finding that suggests genetic as well as environmental causes of this developmental problem. 

Not immunizing your children leaves them vulnerable to diseases that have the potential to make them very ill and may even kill them.  It is amazing to me that some parents choose not to protect their children against this potential cause of harm. As we begin a new school year, parents should reflect on whether protecting their children against diseases that were dreaded in the past is a priority for them.

Ask Dr. Susan