Diseases like smallpox have been completely wiped out for decades thanks to medical science and vaccinations. However, in the past few years, there has been a resurgence of nearly eradicated diseases across the United States. In 2014, the U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases — a disease the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared eliminated in 2000. This surge is due, at least in part, to the growing number of unvaccinated children throughout the country.
The number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children is comparatively small, but their decision to decline immunizations can be life-threatening, both to their child and the general public. The issue is so serious that California’s governor recently passed a law banning unvaccinated children from attending public schools. Here’s why you should take it seriously, too.
The Importance of Immunization
Immunizations are 90 to 100 percent effective. Not surprisingly, studies show a sharp decrease in the number of vaccine-preventable disease cases as soon as viable vaccines are released on the market.
Vaccinations work most effectively within a community, fostering what’s known as “herd immunity.” There will always be high-risk people who cannot be vaccinated for one reason or another — infants, the elderly, pregnant women, people severely allergic to vaccine components, and those with weakened immune systems, like leukemia patients. But if the majority of people around them get vaccinated, including their family, friends, caregivers, and classmates, immunocompromised parties will be effectively shielded from contracting vaccine-preventable diseases.
When less than 90 to 95 percent of a community get vaccinated, though, it creates an environment where such infectious diseases like whooping cough and measles can spread. A small percentage of American children are unvaccinated — the numbers vary from state to state, between 1 and 6.5 percent — but those kids tend to cluster in similar geographic areas. When those unvaccinated groups get big enough, they can destroy the herd immunity that benefits everyone in their community.
Potential Risks of Immunizations
Though no vaccination is completely free of risk, the dangers of vaccinating are extremely low. Most vaccines include a weakened or inactivated form of the disease they’re designed to prevent, making it highly unlikely that a vaccine recipient with a healthy immune system will contract the disease. Vaccines undergo regular testing by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent any such issues. In fact, when the older oral version of the polio vaccine was suggested to have caused just one case of vaccine-associated polio per 2.4 million doses, officials developed a new vaccine, which has so far not been connected to any cases of the illness.
Some anti-vaccination groups claim immunizations cause SIDS, autism, and a host of other disorders, but research does not support these links. While the CDC does list “brain damage” as a potential severe side-effect of pertussis vaccinations, it also states that the issue is so rare that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to link it to the immunization.
Research also shows that a child’s immune system can handle a high number of vaccines at a very young age. Babies come in contact with a high number of viruses the moment they are born, and kids will come in contact with more bacteria in their life than vaccines. Even when children are given more than 10 vaccines over a relatively short span of time, they use only a fraction of their immune system to build up defenses against the diseases.
Vaccination Schedules and Safety Protocols
If possible, it’s a good idea to stick to the CDC’s updated immunization schedules for both children and adults. These schedules include timelines for the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (TDAP) boosters, as well as a recommendation for annual flu shot vaccinations. As long as your child is healthy, there is no reason they should miss a vaccination, but if something comes up, the CDC also offers catch-up schedules to get them back on track.
In terms of post-immunization care, most vaccines have fairly mild side-effects that are easy to manage. Children may develop soreness around the injection site or a low-grade fever, and your child’s doctor will likely recommend the use of a pain reliever to ease potential discomfort. If any mild side-effects persist for a long period of time, or if your child shows more severe symptoms after being immunized, contact a pediatrician.
Few medical procedures cause such divided opinions as vaccinations. The importance of immunizing, though, can not be stressed enough. At SafeWise, we know that your children’s safety is one of the most important things, which is why those who can get immunized should, to protect themselves and their community.
Written by Hillary Johnston
A proud mother of four, Hillary is passionate about safety education. She holds a degree in Public Health and Disaster Management. Learn more