With the recent news that 15 cases of whooping cough have been discovered in Brattleboro, and that the number of cases of measles nationwide is nearing 600, the debate over vaccinations has once again risen in a crescendo.
Truthfully, if you follow social media, the topic of vaccinations is always bubbling somewhere, with critics of the practice citing anecdotal cases of adverse effects and the discredited study of Dr. Andrew Wakefield. The reasons people don't vaccinate their children are as varied as the people themselves, but as Robert T. Carroll notes, one thing unites the anti-vaccination crowd.
"Each is selective in its picking of evidence to support its viewpoint and to denigrate one of scientific medicine's major contributions to public health."
It's understandable that parents should be concerned about what products that are finding their ways into our children, but those who are concerned about vaccines should focus more on the dinner table than on the hypodermic.
"Before smallpox was eradicated with a vaccine, it killed an estimated 500 million people," notes Amy Wallace, for Wired Magazine. "And just 60 years ago, polio paralyzed 16,000 Americans every year, while rubella caused birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns. Measles infected four million children, killing 3,000 annually, and a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae type b caused Hib meningitis in more than 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, an Assistant U.S. Surgeon General, visited Vermont Wednesday for meetings with state health leaders and for a presentation at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.
She reminded listeners that vaccinations have been proven to be a safe method in staving off disease.
"If we don't immunize our families, these diseases will come back," Schuchat told New England Cable News, describing an increase in illnesses such as measles, which had been declared eliminated in the United States in 2000.
She also noted that with global travel being the norm, rather than the exception, the spread of disease can be just one boarding pass away.
"Americans travel around the world, we love to do that," Schuchat told NECN. "We have people coming from all over the place to visit beautiful places like Vermont. If your kids aren't vaccinated against these diseases, they're very much at risk."
The Vermont Health Department notes that 86.9 percent of public school kindergarteners were considered fully vaccinated. But numbers for private school students are lower, with 72.2 percent of kindergarteners considered fully immunized.
Vermont's immunization law requires vaccination of all children enrolled in child care or school, to include DTaP, polio, MMR, hepatitis B and varicella (chicken pox). However, during the 2012 legislative session, changes were made with regard to the Vermont law that allows for immunization exemptions. If a parent or guardian chooses to exempt their child on religious or philosophic grounds, they must sign an exemption form annually acknowledging they have read evidence-based information regarding immunizations, and are aware of the risks associated with not vaccinating their children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that while side effects from vaccines have been reported, they are extremely rare. Most are minor and temporary, the site says, such as a sore arm or low-grade fever.
As Erika Lowe, a Burlington mother of a 6-year-old girl, told NECN, "Looking at some of those side effects can be a little frightening; it was frightening for me. But at the same time, the risk of contracting those diseases is far worse."
Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a press release regarding a new study released in the medical journal, Pediatrics.
The study shows routine immunizations for children to be perfectly safe with no causal link to autism or leukemia, and only limited incidents of rashes or seizure.
"Researchers also identified strong evidence that MMR, DTaP, Td, Hib and hepatitis B vaccines are not associated with childhood leukemia," stated a press release about the study. "Studies did show an association of several serious adverse events with vaccines, but these events were very rare, such as intussusception (intestinal side effects) after rotavirus vaccine. Researchers conclude the findings may allay concerns of some parents about vaccine safety."
As the study's authors noted "Vaccines are considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century for their role in eradicating smallpox and controlling polio, measles, rubella, and other infectious diseases in the United States. Despite their effectiveness in preventing and eradicating disease, routine childhood vaccine uptake remains sub-optimal. Parent refusal of vaccines has contributed to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles 2 and pertussis."
Life is about taking risks, but it is also about reducing unnecessary risks. We have no illusions that, with one or two editorials, we will change the minds of the anti-vaxxers, but we do know that by pointing out the absurdity of their position, we invite their irrational scorn. But that's OK, as the study of vaccines has proven, those who vaccinate are on the right side of history, and the world is much healthier for vaccines, despite what rationale the anti-vaccination crowd uses to justify its medieval beliefs.