Once considered the wonder of modern medical technology, today childhood vaccinations trigger playgroup debates and heated discussions at dinner parties, leaving some parents to opt out of immunization altogether. But there is good news for parents who have concerns — a report in the July 2014 edition of the journal Pediatrics found that vaccines are safe, and that very serious side effects are rare.
“I hope parents consider the benefits of vaccines and how these outweigh perceived risks,” says Erin O’Leary, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic in Santee. “There are important reasons why parents should immunize their children against diseases that can be life threatening. It is always better to prevent a disease than to try to treat it and its side effects after it occurs.”
Dr. O’Leary explains the top five reasons that childhood vaccines are not only safe, but also necessary:
1. Vaccines protect infants and children from serious diseases and their devastating effects, which can include paralysis, blindness and even death. Developed to combat these diseases, vaccines have worked so well that most people currently having children have never even had or witnessed these diseases and the damage they can cause.
“This lack of exposure to diseases has made it seem that it is safe to not vaccinate,” explains O’Leary. “However, the decline in vaccination rates is allowing these diseases to make a comeback.”
For example, the U.S. has been experiencing the largest number of cases of measles since 1994, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Ninety percent of all the cases in the country were in unvaccinated people or those whose vaccination status was unknown.
2. Both an individual and a public health issue, vaccination protects not only your family, but also your friends and your community. When your children receive vaccines, they are protecting themselves and those who cannot be immunized, such as children too young to be vaccinated and those who can’t receive certain vaccines due to a medical condition or a weakened immune system from an illness such as cancer.
3. Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective when given according to the schedule provided by the CDC. They are tested extensively by scientists and medical professionals and given at specific ages to protect children during the times at which they are most vulnerable to these diseases.
Dr. O’Leary adds that in the first few months of life, infants are exposed to thousands of bacteria on a daily basis, which puts a much higher demand on the immune system than the entire vaccine schedule.
4. Vaccine-preventable diseases exist throughout the world and do not care about country borders. The world is a much smaller place due to easy access to air travel, and diseases that are not common here in the U.S. can get here by visitors from other countries or un-vaccinated individuals from the U.S. who travel and return infected.
“It is not safe to say that unvaccinated children are ’protected‘ within their community,” says Dr. O’Leary.
5. Vaccines have the potential to eradicate serious diseases. For example, small pox, a disfiguring disease, was eradicated worldwide by 1980.
“We are very lucky here in the U.S.,” says Dr. O’Leary. “We have easy access to vaccines which has allowed us to greatly reduce or eradicate several diseases. However, the lack of access to vaccines in other countries have allowed diseases, like polio and measles, to remain prevalent and cause significant morbidity and mortality.”