Small pox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella are all potentially life-threatening diseases that have been almost completely eliminated from our society during our lifetimes. The reason for this is the routine childhood immunization program that has been widely accepted in the United States, as well as most of the modern world.
We often hear about the supposed side effects of immunizations, but we rarely hear about children getting the very diseases that the vaccines protect against. That’s because the immunization program has worked so well in preventing diseases that could have killed millions and caused untold suffering.
In fact, we’ve been so successful immunizing children and preventing diseases that some might wonder whether vaccines are still needed.
Here’s why immunizations are still necessary:
- Newborn babies are immune to many diseases, because they have antibody protection from their mothers. This immunity is mostly gone by the end of the first year of life, leaving unvaccinated babies susceptible to the abovementioned vaccine-preventable illnesses.
- Although our country has virtually eliminated these diseases, many Third World countries with poor immunization programs are still plagued by vaccine-preventable illnesses. These diseases are only a plane ride away. An infected traveler could bring such an illness back to the States, where it could spread rapidly if people were not adequately immunized.
- In the U.S., pertussis (whooping cough) is making a comeback, and tetanus is still infecting some people.
- Widespread immunization is necessary because it helps to keep a disease from spreading within a population. This helps to protect those few who, whether by choice or by necessity, are not immunized.
Immunizations are safe. A decade ago, an unsubstantiated study tried to link immunizations to autism. A well-publicized article from England sounded the alarm connecting the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism. This started a grassroots movement that has led many to reject all vaccinations. However, the majority of the authors of that article have withdrawn their support for it, and the lead author was found guilty of professional misconduct and had his license to practice medicine revoked.
Many well-controlled scientific studies have all concluded that there is no scientific or statistical relationship between immunizations and autism.
Unfortunately, the rates of immunized children entering kindergarten in Santa Cruz County are some of the lowest in the nation, with only 84 percent fully vaccinated. The San Lorenzo Valley is even lower, with just 65 percent fully immunized.
Just recently, Felton had a measles scare, prompting a major investigation. The outcome was favorable this time, as it did not infect anyone except the carrier, but a significant epidemic could spread through our area in the future because of our low immunization rates.
Until vaccine-preventable illnesses are eliminated worldwide, as with deadly smallpox — a result of the most successful immunization program ever — I strongly recommend that as many of our children as possible be routinely immunized and thus protected from potentially life-threatening diseases.
- Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view his previous columns on his website, http://valleydoctor.wordpress.com, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.