August is National Immunization Awareness Month
09-21-2009 (Dayton, OH) -
For many parents, vaccinating their child can be a source of anxiety.
Almost all vaccines can cause pain or redness. These symptoms are not serious or long lasting, but they can still be frightening.
While a child may feel slight discomfort following a routine vaccination and a parent may want to spare their child pain, this inconvenience is minor compared to what could happen if a child is left unvaccinated.
There is no denying the importance of vaccines, says Sherman Alter, MD, director of infectious disease at The Children's Medical Center of Dayton.
"Vaccines protect you from diseases without subjecting you to the serious symptoms of that illness," Dr. Alter says.
"Without vaccines, many of the diseases we're now protected from - like polio - will return."A 1916 polio epidemic in the United States killed over 6,000 people and paralyzed more than 27,000 others. In the 1950s, there were more than 20,000 cases of polio each year.
Polio vaccination began in 1955. By 1960, the number of cases dropped to about 3,000. By 1979, there were only about 10.
It would only take one case of polio from another country to bring back the disease in the US if a child is not vaccinated with the vaccine.
Dr. Alter says there are a number of other reasons to vaccinate a child.
Some diseases are still common in the United States, and by not getting vaccininated, you will be at a high risk of getting the disease.
Whooping cough or pertussis is a common disease that a vaccine will protect against. Pertussis, unfortunately, still occurs in the United States. In the 1940s, there were over 175,000 reported cases of whooping cough annually, resulting in the deaths of over 8,000 children per year. In 2002, there were only 9,771 reported cases of whooping cough. Yet, all children and adolescents must be protected against this disease - in 2005 there were more than 25,000 cases of pertussis reported in the U.S.
Some diseases like mumps and measles that are no longer common still occur at low levels because they are present in the environment.
Because the number of infections caused by measles dropped in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to the immunization of children against the infection, many parents stopped vaccinating their children against measles.
This led to more than 11,000 hospitalizations of children with measles and more than a hundred deaths. After the outbreak, parents resumed vaccinating their children against measles.
With international travel so common in today's world, it is possible for these diseases to continue to be spread unknowingly by travelers or immigrants.
Individuals with infectious diseases may return with the disease and infect those individuals not protected by vaccination. In the first four months of 2008, there were 64 reports of measles in the US and only one person had documentation of previous measles vaccination.
Children who are not vaccinated against measles are 35 times more likely than immunized children to get the disease.Although some diseases are no longer found in the United States, they still occur elsewhere.
There are many myths about vaccines. Dr. Alter says some of the most common are:
- Vaccines don't work. This is false. Most occurrences of diseases like polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps and whooping cough have dramatically decreased since the introduction of the vaccines preventing each disease.
- Vaccines aren't necessary. Diseases that are prevented by vaccines still occur in the United States. If a child is not vaccinated against that disease, they are more likely to contract it. High immunization levels explain the dramatic decrease in outbreaks. If children are not properly vaccinated, the immunization level will decline and outbreaks of the disease will increase.
- Vaccines aren't safe. While some parents may worry about the side effects of vaccines, it's important to note that pharmaceutical companies are under the strict supervision of the FDA. Vaccines are tested for years before they are approved and all recommended vaccines are completely safe. Observation of vaccines and their safety in children also continues after the vaccine is in use.
- Infants are too young to be vaccinated. Many vaccine-preventable diseases strike children under the age of 2.
- Vaccines weaken the immune system. Natural infections of certain viruses like chicken pox and measles without a doubt weaken the immune system; however, the viruses in vaccines are different from the "wild" virus of the natural infection. Viruses in vaccines have been altered to the point where they will not weaken the immune system.
- Vaccines cause autism. This claim is based on studies done on children who received the MMR vaccine who were then diagnosed with autism. The studies indicated no difference in the occurrence of autism between children born before the vaccine was introduced and those born after the MMR vaccine was introduced. By looking at family home videos, autism experts have been able to identify previously undiagnosed autistic children before they received the MMR vaccine based on behavioral characteristics. Perhaps the origin of this myth is the fact that many children receive the MMR vaccine around the same time developmentally that parents begin to notice signs of autism in their children.
"A brief period of slight discomfort outweighs a lifetime of disease, disability or even death."
Recent media attention has caused confusion about the safety of vaccines, which led to the creation of a new website about immunization awareness. To learn more about the campaign as well as the facts about vaccines, visit www.vaccinateyourbaby.org.
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