Don’t miss the point: Immunize
Don’t Miss the Point: Immunizations
By Dr. David Pommer
There remain many misperceptions about the benefits of immunizations. As a physician, I take responsibility for informing parents and patients on the importance of this public health defense. And as kids head back to school, I believe this is a good opportunity to readdress immunizations and dispel some of the more common myths.
In medicine, there have been few triumphs as great as immunizations. We have not conquered cancer or vanquished diabetes or obesity. But we do have fewer infections. How often do we see children suffering from polio, measles or meningitis — diseases that were commonplace and deadly for much of the 20th century?
Fortunately, we witness these diseases rather infrequently. However, that trend is slowly changing in areas where fewer kids are immunized.
Here is some interesting data from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (vaccine.chop.edu) about infectious disease in the 1900’s prior to vaccines being widely available. In one year, one could expect:
- Polio to paralyze 10,000 kids
- Measles to take the life of 3,000 children
- Haemophilus to cause 15,000 cases of meningitis — resulting in permanent brain damage for many.
We tend to have a short-term memory about the devastating effects of vaccine-preventable illnesses.
More recently, we have been bombarded with articles and studies trying to link vaccinations with various childhood diseases and disorders — most commonly, autism. In fact, a British journal recently retracted a study from the 1990’s that had fabricated data linking vaccination shots and autism. And what about mercury’s side effects on children? In vaccines, trace amounts of mercury had been used as a preservative. Today, mercury is used only in multi-dose flu shots and there have been more than six studies investigating mercury and autism, concluding that there is no evident link between the two. Vaccines and mercury do not cause autism.
There are also varying viewpoints on the best time to deliver immunizations. One viewpoint is that delaying shots may be better for a child’s immune system. In reality, infants are colonized with trillions of bacteria, and face more immunological challenges in their first week of life then they will from immunizations. Delaying immunization shots is not a recommended practice.
As a parent myself, I understand that many parents may view immunizations as a personal decision. It most certainly is. But the decision to skip or delay your child’s immunizations also affects our community and those around you too. As physicians, we refer to this as “herd immunity.” It is based on a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not yet developed immunity. I’ll provide a brief example to illustrate the importance of this concept:
On most days, my waiting room is filled with children of all ages. Some of those children may be too young to have received certain immunizations. When an older child who is behind or has skipped some immunizations comes into the room with pertussis or chicken pox, this could infect the younger kids (even if they weren’t licking the toys). In contrast, should most or all of the older children be up-to-date on their immunizations, the likelihood of the younger kids getting infected is diminished greatly.
I understand that this is a very short synopsis on immunizations, and I leave myself open to sharp and pointed attacks. But I am a promoter — or a booster if you will — of the immunization process.
Is your response, “ouch!”? If so, feel free to let me know if you see me in the clinic. Or email me at email@example.com.
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Filed under From the Mag, School, Second Opinion