Immunizations have been one of the greatest accomplishments of modern science and medicine. However, along with this contribution has come a surplus of misinformation. In the United States today it is easy to forget that the vaccine preventable diseases of today were major causes of death in the past.
Looking at epidemiological data from the United States provides a quick reminder just how far we have come in the last century. Polio, a well known paralyzing disease, affected over sixteen thousand people in the early nineteen fifties, and was officially eliminated with zero cases reported in 2003. Pertussis or “whooping cough,” caused approximately one hundred and forty thousand cases of illness in the early nineteen twenties. Pertussis is still a well known respiratory illness today, but has only affected a little over ten thousand people in 2003. These reductions in disease and mortality are impressive, but also mask many parents’ eyes to the severity of the diseases their children are receiving vaccines against. As a population in the United States, the majority of parents and children are not exposed to the morbidity of these diseases and, therefore, many feel uncertain about the utility of vaccination.
The picture worldwide is illustrative in this discussion. In areas that did not have the same access to vaccination, almost three hundred thousand people died from pertussis, and over six hundred thousand died from measles in one year. These were deaths that could have been prevented by vaccination. These two diseases in particular are easily passed from one person to another, as an infected individual sneezes or coughs. An outbreak could unfold easily during a trip to the mall, on a family vacation, or in the emergency room. Once a child is infected the family must deal with consequences that may range from a prolonged illness to an intensive care unit stay for an infant, or even the possibility of death.
There are many quality sources of information on vaccinations that are available for parents with questions. Perhaps two of the most trusted are the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control. Both of these organizations are recognized nationally and worldwide as reputable references on a multitude of topics. In addition, both have websites that are easily accessible (aap.org and cdc.org respectively). Vaccination is an essential part of well child-care that is a privilege in the United States. It is often difficult for families to separate out the information they receive from the media, friends, and the internet. Your pediatrician is available to help untangle any seemingly incongruent opinions your family may encounter in trying to ensure the best care for your child. Always arm yourself with the best information available based on scientific evidence prior to making a health care decision.