My Turn: Why vaccines are still important
In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of 4 years old by the Small PoxI long regretted bitterly and I still regret that I had not given it to him by Inoculation Ben FranklinThose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it George SantayanaImmunization interchangeable with vaccination has been called the most important public health intervention in history, after safe drinking water. Worldwide it is still estimated that 3 million children are saved yearly. Preventative medicine, of which immunization is a cornerstone, postulates disease prevention is always better than treatment, not to mention cheaper and less risky. Memory is short for the ravages of small pox clearly eliminated by vaccination, polio almost eradicated, and numerous others. Many of these diseases, though currently rare in the US, are just a plane ride away. Vaccine controversy does not exist in the Third World , other than lack thereof.Despite the successes, a clear relative safety record, and easy availability, many areas in this country are undervaccinated. Nevada County has the lowest immunization rate in the state at 73 percent. When vaccine rates fall below 90 percent, diseases return. England and Japan experienced just this when they discontinued the old DPT due to reactions in the late 1970s. They returned to vaccination in a few years, especially with the newer and improved DTaP, as it was clear vaccination was safer. Last year we had whooping cough reappear in Nevada County. I wish to challenge those who choose not to immunize. Distrust continues with concerns about immune overload, preservatives, the youth and vulnerability of babies, and combination vaccines such as the MMR. The information age doesn’t necessarily require accuracy. As Dr. Offitt noted in his recent book Vaccinated, Anecdotal associations, which can be very powerful, can also be misleading. Medically speaking, the Internet is flooded with very sad stories of individuals that are not science and are unproven. I recommend at least visiting sites such as http://www.cdc.gov, http://www.aap.org, and http://www.immunizationinfo.org to answer some of your concerns. With a contaminated food and water supply, as well as lead in toys, many are rightly wary of what goes in the body. Vaccines are dead or weakened forms of real illnesses, therefore individuals are naturally exposed in a safe method. Reactions occur, much as with the illness, though far milder and rarely serious. The large majority of physicians and scientists worldwide agree the margin of safety of vaccination over disease exposure is about a thousand fold or more. Science can prove vaccines strengthen, not weaken, young immune systems. We vaccinate against so many things currently because we can safely. Our immune systems are challenged daily by hundreds of microbes, therefore multiple vaccines in one session, including in combination, are reasonable and proven. The small and erroneous study linking the MMR and autism was thoroughly discredited, as the lead author was being paid by a legal firm suing vaccine manufacturers. His suggestion of splitting the MMR was randomly offered without any research, and haunts the medical community today.Some trace amounts of chemicals are inevitable by the way vaccines are made. The autism link to mercury is also false, even though to keep the trust of the patients, it was removed. Mercury containing vaccines have been gone for four years, yet the autism rate continues unchanged in children unvaccinated as well as vaccinated. Environmental sources of mercury exceed that in prior vaccines, including breast milk, and in a more harmful form. Delay of vaccines is an option that exposes the most vulnerable to risk of disease, without evidence of harm. I have personally witnessed the radical drop in meningitis a terrible disease due to the HIB and pneumococcal vaccines. An added benefit to all vaccines, especially these two, is a decreasing number of illnesses which may require antibiotics, thus less chance of superbugs such a MRSA (staph infections). Vaccines are cost effective, which is relevant in a society unable to afford healthcare for all. They generate far less income than other medicines for manufacturers, and very little for providers.Protection is provided for those unable to be vaccinated (the most vulnerable, such as cancer patients). This is now jeopardized by those who choose not to vaccinate. Mandatory vaccines save lives the recent Maryland case which threatened parents who refuse to immunize may not be so radical. Please, make a New Year’s resolution to restudy this vitally important topic.Dr. Chris Arth is a pediatrician in Truckee.