By now, most people are aware of the current measles outbreak. It is difficult to avoid television, newspaper and social media stories about the cases that can be traced back to a visitor at Disneyland. As I write this, over 100 people in 14 states have contracted measles. This disease is considered the most contagious virus on earth and will infect 90 percent of people who are exposed. Thirty percent of those infected will develop complications ranging from ear infections and pneumonia to encephalitis and death. Fortunately, this is entirely preventable with a safe and effective vaccine that was first licensed in 1963. The first dose of vaccine is recommended for all children 12-15 months. A second dose is provided at 4-5 years. Ninety-seven percent of people receiving both doses of vaccine will be immune to the virus.
Vaccination efforts have been so effective, that measles was considered eradicated in 2000. That is, there would be a few cases each year, typically imported from foreign travelers, but the high vaccination rate would prevent the virus from spreading. Recently, however, a growing group of individuals, choosing not to vaccinate their children, has damaged these protections resulting in the outbreak that we are seeing today. The reasons cited for vaccine refusal are numerous and beyond the scope of this article, but can be divided into several categories:
- Vaccines are part of a larger conspiracy propagated by government and pharmaceutical agencies
- Vaccines contain toxins that are harmful to the body
- Vaccines cause illness such as autism
- Children receive too many vaccines
- Vaccines don’t work
There are copious amounts of evidence from scientists and other experts refuting each of these claims, but some parents choose not to believe it.
Somehow, the decision to vaccinate a child has become one of parenting style and choice rather than civic responsibility. Parents empowered by their peers and internet searches make decisions about whether to vaccinate, similar to the way they decide whether to breast or bottle feed. Parents concerned about mommy wars, respecting everyone’s opinion and being nonjundgmental abound on blogs and message boards. Comments such as “do what you think is best” is often how the decision to vaccinate is approached. It is time to change that discussion. We can no longer be complacent.
Vaccines are not a personal choice. The choice not to vaccinate endangers the entire community. Children too young to receive vaccines, individuals with compromised immune systems or those people for whom the vaccine did not provide immunity are at risk. It is happening now. We vaccinate to protect our children and our neighbor’s children. It is part of living in a community.
What can you do?
- Ensure that you and your family are up to date on vaccines
- Speak up; talk with your friends, your neighbors and your social media community; tell them about your choice to vaccinate
- Be an advocate; talk with your legislators or write letters to the newspaper
As a pediatrician, I am committed to the health of the children within our community. I am passionate about vaccines and have seen the good that they have done. If you are hesitant about vaccines, speak to your pediatrician first. Obtain the facts. Vaccines are safe, vaccines are effective, and vaccines are not a parenting choice.
Lisa Ryan, MD, is a pediatrician at Way to Grow Pediatrics. She can be reached at 636.334.2213.