If you’ve followed news media recently you may have noticed a fierce debate about the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines. The fact is that vaccines are one of the most successful and cost effective public health initiatives we’ve seen in the last few decades. We've progressed from a time not long ago when one in 3,000 children died from measles and another 20,000 children were killed or permanently disfigured from polio, to a time when most people and even many physicians have not seen a case of measles or polio. Vaccines are safe, well tested, and they work. The immunizations help protect not only the vaccinated person, but also the surrounding community by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious disease.
Unfortunately, bad science and sensational yet factually inaccurate media hype has combined to create a disastrous push-back against routine vaccination. The result of which is a tragic decline in immunization rates across the world and a recurrence in the number of preventable childhood illnesses and deaths. As examples, the resurgence of measles in the late 80s early 90s resulted in over 55,000 reported cases, 11,000 plus hospitalizations and 166 deaths. A recent outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) in California effected close to 10,000 cases in little over a year, and resulted in 10 deaths - all in infants less than three months of age. Despite the outbreaks of preventable illness, and the publication of multiple studies conducted in developed countries all around the world that have again and again proven the safety of vaccines and that there is no link between vaccines and autism, we unfortunately continue to see a significant number of parents, whom either - out of misinformation or fear - delay or decline vaccinations.
The stakes are high. The risk of non-immunization is increasing as fewer children are immunized and there is less immunity in our population and therefore more likelihood to spread these diseases - many of which have no cure or treatment. Those at highest risk are our infants who are too young to be fully immunized or those who have serious medical problems that prevent them from being vaccinated. If you wait until your child steps on the rusty nail or your child is exposed to measles, it is too late. The science establishing the safety and efficacy of vaccines is strong and sound. The risk of not immunizing is too great. Together we can continue to prevent and, if we're lucky, keep our children healthy, and get close to the goal of eradicating these diseases from our communities.