During my day-to-day practice as a pediatrician, the issue of immunizations comes up quite often. This topic is of interest particularly now due to a growing demographic of parents and guardians who refuse to immunize their children. As a result of this, outbreaks of once-controlled diseases like Measles and Whooping Cough continue to make headlines around the country.

Vaccinations are one of the greatest triumphs of science and have saved the lives of millions. Immunizations are a big part of why the average American lives 30 years longer than they would have in 1900. They are the reason why scourges like paralysis from polio, pneumonia, death from chicken pox, blindness and deafness from bacterial meningitis are largely unheard of today. Prior to the advent of the chicken pox vaccine, thousands were hospitalized and several died from chicken pox. Yet since the United States started using the vaccine in 1995, the number of hospitalizations and deaths from chicken pox has gone down more than 90 percent.

Among other things, frequent concerns expressed by parents that make them weary of immunizations include the argument that there is a link between vaccines and Autism. This idea was first proposed in a 1998 medical journal The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield, a former British surgeon and medical researcher.

However, The Lancet later disavowed his paper after it was found to be based on fraudulent research. As a consequence, he eventually lost his medical license. There has been extensive review of the medical literature which has concluded that few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines. Yet many people wrongly cite this fraudulent study when justifying not getting their children vaccinated.

There is also a popular argument that raises concerns about vaccines containing mercury, which many know as an environmental toxin. This belief is based on the presence of a substance, called thimerosal, which was used in the past manufacturing of vaccines. It should be noted that the form of mercury in thimerosal is ethyl mercury which does not accumulate in the body. Additionally, the amounts of the agent in question are miniscule. To put it in perspective to everyday life, the amount that was contained in vaccines is nothing in comparison to the range of what is ingested with some forms of fish. While this still make some cautious, it should be noted that since 2001, with the exception of some influenza (flu) vaccines, thimerosal is not used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines, while the incidence of Autism has only risen since then, showing there is no link between the two

Another concern I hear often is about vaccines causing the diseases they are supposed to prevent, specifically, the influenza vaccine is frequently refused for this reason. While some symptoms of an acute illness can occur following the administration of any vaccine, these should not necessarily be construed negatively. These symptoms are frequently signs that the vaccine is “priming your immune system”, like a fire drill prepares you for what to do in the event of an actual fire. While they may be unpleasant, they are not in the scale of the actual disease if it was acquired in the environment.

It is true that vaccines are not 100 percent effective, just as no medical intervention that is 100 percent. If someone contracts a disease that they have been vaccinated for isn’t a testament that vaccines do not work. Anyone can inhale or touch germs, but the most severe complications of vaccine-preventable diseases almost exclusively occur in people who are unvaccinated. For instance, seizures, pneumonia and death from pertussis is more common among infants too young to have the vaccine.

This brings us to the concept of getting yourself and your children vaccinated as a social responsibility. Just like driving drunk or smoking in public places, your decision on whether to vaccinate affects not only you, but the community at large. {jb_quoteleft}This brings us to the concept of getting yourself and your children vaccinated as a social responsibility. Just like driving drunk or smoking in public places, your decision on whether to vaccinate affects not only you, but the community at large.{/jb_quoteleft}
There are those amongst us who have medical conditions for which their immune systems are chronically weak. Organ transplant recipients, cancer patients and infants cannot receive some immunizations and are highly susceptible to the diseases that they are designed to protect. That means the responsibility is with the rest of us to get immunized to give some protection to those individuals from these potentially fatal diseases. This idea is called herd immunity.

To give a practical example, let’s discuss the Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). CRS, or rubella, can cause problems for the unborn children of pregnant women if mothers contract it during the early stages of pregnancy. Complications from CRS include miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, and birth defects like deafness, cataracts, and heart defects. Babies who do survive may have mental retardation. From 1962 through 1965, in the United States, rubella caused about 11,250 deaths of unborn babies and 2,100 deaths of newborns. Approximately, 20,000 babies were born with CRS. Of these babies, 8,000 were deaf, 3,600 were deaf-blind, and 1,800 were mentally retarded.

Though young children who get Rubella might have mild symptoms for a few days, the effects on the unborn child can be devastating and life altering if they pass the disease on to a pregnant mother. We owe it to each other to protect those unborn children from the potential lifelong hardship of a vaccine-preventable disease.Vaccinations  

While it is true that some vaccine preventable diseases are exceedingly rare these days, it remains vital that we continue to vaccinate our children against them. The diphtheria outbreak in the former Soviet Union during the 1990s showed what could happen if we did not have such a steady, high vaccination rate. If we stopped vaccinating, then just one unvaccinated U.S. resident traveling abroad and coming home infected could cause an epidemic.

At the end of the day, the onus lies on each parent to make the best decisions for their children to the best of their ability. It is my job, as a trained medical professional, to present parents with the facts as we have them today in order to equip them to make the best informed decision possible. In this day and age, the fact is that the overwhelming verdict of objective science is that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any potential risks.