It’s Time to Return to School: Should I Vaccinate My Children?

It’s hard to believe the back-to-school season is upon us. Kids love the flurry of activity that swirls around shopping for new clothes and shoes (a pair of Tom’s, please, requests my 9 year-old, already a cute-shoe guru), school supplies and  for us, homeschool curricula. It’s not quite as much fun completing the requisite back-to-school paperwork and gathering and maintaining (ouch) up-to-date health records (yes, even for homeschoolers).  As I do the paper-pushing, I am reminded it is time to repost the following essay on the importance of vaccinating our children:

 

I’m going to give this to you straight. As in 23-gauge needle straight:

∗Vaccinate your kids.

∗ Let them eat dirt.

∗Don’t freak if they eat their boogers.

∗(Do freak if they eat someone else’s.)

Evidence supports doing the first two. The third falls under the “can’t hurt ’em” line of thinking. And the fourth, well, goes without saying.

What can hurt, as we know, is the sting from a needle delivering a vaccine, often several administered in rapid succession. But what can hurt even more are the repercussions from choosing to forgo “shots.”

Childhood vaccines: two words that generate a ton of talk. Banter from when my kids were toddlers still continues a decade later. The debate comes to a rolling boil when parents consider whether or not to vaccine their children and hits flash point when families defend the choice they make. But I am not writing this post to put forth my feelings on this topic. It’s far more important to promote the facts and dispel the myths circulating about childhood vaccines. So I write this to contribute to the body of accurate cyber-information, with the goal of helping parents make a well-informed, not an emotionally-charged, decision. This will not be one of those strongly-worded pro- or anti-vaccination rants (I actually read one written by a physician who repeatedly dropped the f-bomb). Decisions regarding the health of our children, and by extension that of our communities, are far too important to be clouded by emotional rhetoric. Instead, I’ll dispel some common myths regarding childhood vaccines and talk real information that you can use.

Myth #1: Diseases are eradicated, so my children don’t need vaccinated.

Simply put, in order to eradicate we must vaccinate. Smallpox is the only disease considered to be non-threat and that was accomplished with worldwide…vaccination. And to have a shot at wiping out more diseases that carry devastating, widespread consequences we must vaccinate against those as well. But as we’ve seen in recent years, many of the diseases for which vaccines are available are “alive and well.” Prime examples:

∗Pertussis (Whooping Cough). There were 28,639 cases of pertussis diagnosed in 2013. Most victims were infants, but coming in close second were children aged 7 to 10 years. Children, if vaccinated, should have peak immunity from pertussis.

∗Measles.  This highly infectious disease has also made headlines in recent years.  In 2014, there were 383 cases associated with an outbreak in Amish communities in Ohio; the people affected were mostly unvacccinated.  Also, last year there were 189 measles cases that encompassed 24 states.  Contributing to these statistics was the notorious Disneyland outbreak; it is suspected an infected visitor from overseas triggered the spread of measles but this suspicion has not been confirmed.  Which brings me to an important point:  measles is a worldwide problem.  It is nowhere near being eradicated…so vaccinate your kids.

∗Tetanus (“lockjaw”). Tetanus is ever-present in dust and soil. As its elimination from our environment is impossible, vaccination is our only defense. There is no treatment for this disease and unfortunately 1 in 5 people who contract tetanus die.

∗Polio, the good news. The last cases of naturally-occurring polio occurred in the U.S. in 1979. And no cases of vaccine-related polio occur in the U.S. because the IPV, the inactivated, or “dead” version, is now the only one used (an oral “live” vaccine, the OPV, hasn’t been used in the U.S. since the year 2000).  So we have a safe vaccine against polio…one reason the U.S. can boast near, but not complete, eradication of this debilitating illness.

Finally, as polio and measles are both viruses, there is no effective medication to treat either. Don’t expect a trip to the emergency room will provide a cure, it won’t. Prevent both by vaccination.

Myth #2: Everyone else vaccinates their kids so I don’t need to.

More and more parents believe they can rely on herd immunity to protect their children against infectious diseases. Now herd immunity is not a given, as for it to occur it literally takes a village: 95 percent of the population eligible for vaccinations must actually receive them in order for a community to have effective herd immunity.  So the non-vaccinators depend on nearly everyone else to vaccine their kids. But fewer children are getting vaccinated, and communities are not hitting that 95 percent benchmark… therefore, no herd immunity. Case in point: as of 2015, only 85 percent of the children in my kids’ former elementary school are fully vaccinated; in fact, none of the elementary schools in our district have achieved herd immunity.  So not surprisingly, our community has had cases of pertussis.

The real reasons we need compliance with childhood vaccines? A new baby brother or sister who cannot yet get vaccinated but is highly susceptible to infectious disease. Elderly grandparents and the immunocompromised who cannot fight disease as effectively as their younger, healthier counterparts. Herd immunity is intended for those groups of people, not for families who simply don’t like the idea of vaccinations.

Myth #3: Vaccines cause autism.

The granddaddy myth of them all. The basis for this claim focused on the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine but became blown out of proportion to include all childhood vaccines.

Some facts:

∗Physician Andrew Wakefield published a paper in 1998 linking autism to the MMR. It was a poorly designed study with only 12 subjects, a major red flag. Having only a dozen patients in a study has as much power and credibility as a hamster trying to pull a steam locomotive.

∗Under charges that he altered patient information and was paid to “fix” his study results, Andrew Wakefield was removed from the United Kingdom Medical Register, (aka lost his license to practice medicine) and his “research” paper was retracted.

Currently, and I can’t emphasize this point enough: 20 studies have reviewed the (ex) Dr. Wakefield’s claim and all, all, studies found no link between the MMR and autism.

Myth #4: The mercury in vaccines is harmful.

Methyl mercury, which is found in fish (certain types of tuna, swordfish), is toxic to the human nervous system when consumed in sufficient amounts. However, ethyl mercury, a break-down product of the vaccine preservative thimerosol, is not. This latter form of mercury is rapidly broken down in the human body and eliminated, therefore it does not accumulate and cause unwanted effects. In fact, no vaccines in the pediatric schedule contain thimerosol, with the single exception being the multi-dose influenza formulation. However, both the single-dose injectable and the nasal (Flumist) versions are free of this preservative, giving concerned parents two other options for protecting their children against influenza.***

Good resources abound to help families find answers to their questions regarding vaccinations. The body of online resources is expansive but finding valid websites is key to obtaining the accurate information you need. One I use frequently is cdc.govWebMD.com is another good resource. And don’t forget about your pediatrician! Also, please feel free to send me your questions as well, I would be happy to help you out!

[***Be prepared for your physician or pediatrician to not offer Flumist this flu season (2016-2017).  After much review, it has been determined that this “up-the-nose” version of the influenza vaccine was ineffective over the last three years. Stay tuned…I will write more on this topic at a later date.]

 

Don't take a chance. Protect your kids.

Don’t take a chance. Protect your kids.

 

(Reposted, with updates, from January 28, 2015 and from August 11, 2015)

 

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