Because of the recent outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles, California passed a law this summer that will severely limit a parent’s ability to opt out of vaccinating their school-aged kids.
But I understand why some parents, especially those with infants and young children, might be fearful when they hear so many (untrue) horror stories about the safety of vaccinations.
One family practice doctor wrote an open letter to parents about vaccinations—why they are necessary and why it’s safer to vaccinate than not—and published it on the health blog KevinMD.
I thought it was very well written and would answer a lot of parents’ questions. Read his post for the complete letter, but here are the highlights:
Can side-effects occur with immunizations? Absolutely, but serious side-effects are exceedingly rare.
Here are the facts as I see them about modern immunizations:
- Immunizations have resulted in the elimination or dramatic reduction of many childhood diseases.
- The illnesses that are preventable by vaccines range in severity from “major inconvenience and expense” to disfiguring and deadly, but are mostly forgotten because most of us have never seen cases of those diseases.
- To maintain the benefits of immunizations, they have to continue in use by a certain percentage of the population as long as the virus continues to exist anywhere in the world. Once usage drops below some level, a vaccine-preventable disease can make a resurgence in the population.
- Although doubt is very difficult to dispel, there is overwhelming evidence of the extremely high safety of vaccines, making their risks very low versus benefits that are very great.
His second point is a good one. Most parents today have never seen a child debilitated by measles or pertussis (whooping cough) or polio. They don’t understand the fear that parents from a generation or two back experienced when certain diseases were raging through their neighborhood; or the relief they felt when vaccines were made available to their children.
And his third point is especially important. The more children who are vaccinated, the less likely a disease can get a foothold into a community. That’s known as “herd immunity.”
The fewer people vaccinated, the greater the risk of disease outbreaks, such as we saw with the measles outbreak in Disneyland earlier this year, or the whooping cough epidemic in my state, Washington, in 2012. (Washington, sadly, has one of the highest vaccine opt-out rates in the country.)
I’ve written several posts on vaccinations because I believe they are so important (to adults, as well!):
- Be informed – 100 vaccination resources
- Back to school – Childhood vaccinations
- Adults need vaccinations, too!
Many diseases are still common in other countries. Unvaccinated children grow up into unvaccinated adults, and if they travel for work or leisure they are at risk of getting one of these diseases and possibly bringing it back into this country. That’s how the Disneyland measles epidemic got started. It grew, however, because of the number of unvaccinated people in the US.
It’s perfectly reasonable to have concerns and questions. Make a list and talk to your physician. Doctors are in a hurry, I know, and will usually just put a consent form in front of you and ask you to sign, but you should expect and ask for a certain amount of time to be educated about the risks and benefits.
I think you will find for the overwhelming majority of kids, the benefits outweigh the risks.
Be informed, stay healthy.
More about vaccinations: