By Dr. Gerald Rakos, MD, Chair of Pediatrics
The subject of childhood vaccinations has received quite a bit of attention recently, mostly due to the nationwide Measles outbreak that began in Disneyland last year. It is remarkable that there is still so much controversy regarding vaccinations when the science behind vaccine safety is quite clear.
Much of the debate, particularly with the Measles Mumps and Rubella (“MMR”) vaccine began in 1998 with the publication of a paper noting a possible connection between Autism and the MMR vaccine. This paper was subsequently found to be fraudulent, was retracted by the Journal it was published in, and the lead author’s medical license was revoked. Yet there are many loving, well-meaning parents who still hold on to this debunked theory nearly 20 years later.
To be clear, vaccines are extremely safe and effective, and while no medical intervention is without risk, overwhelmingly the benefits of vaccinating your child are far greater than the risk of not. This has become truer as the number of unvaccinated children has grown. In some communities upwards of 30% of children are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. No vaccine works in 100% of children, but through a mechanism called “herd immunity” these children are protected by having the vast majority of the population around them vaccinated. As the percentage of vaccinated individuals in any community drops, the risks increase for these non-responders, or those who cannot receive a vaccine (like children with cancer). Many parents do not realize that Measles can be deadly: it will kill about 1/1000 infected children. According to the World Health Organization Measles is a leading cause of death among young children with an estimated 16 children dying every hour globally. These children are dying because they have no access to the vaccine, yet here in America parents are choosing to not use vaccines that are readily available.
Some progress toward increasing vaccination rates has been made. Very recently a new law was passed in California that mandates vaccinations and allows only for medical exemptions. Under this law, children will be required to receive vaccinations for a variety of diseases such as measles, pertussis (Whooping cough) and varicella (chicken pox) in order to enter public or private schools as well as child care centers.
Parents want what is best for their children. But when misinformation is part of an assessment, the decision reached can be misguided. So parents should talk with their pediatricians before making a decision to not vaccinate. This ensures they will have the most up to date information for this important decision.
It is National Immunization Awareness Month. Please vaccinate your child!