The Doctor Is In... Holding off on vaccinations
It’s true that an increasing number of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children. A November report by the Associated Press found that in eight states, more than one in 20 public school kindergartners aren’t getting all the immunizations required for attendance. In another study published in the journal Pediatrics, one in 10 parents nationwide are refusing or delaying shots.
The trend has U.S. health officials worried that diseases that were virtually eradicated could return in full force. Last year, the CDC reported more than 200 cases of measles nationwide – the highest number since 1996. Whooping cough, or pertussis, has been quickly on the rise this year, mostly because immunization rates are dropping. In Washington State, the number of pertussis cases rose to a whopping 550 during the first quarter alone, compared to 88 cases during the same period last year. Washington, incidentally, has one of the country’s highest kindergarten vaccination exemption rates, which stands at 6 percent.
Parents skip shots for a variety of reasons. Some believe in older, more traditional vaccinations, but question newer shots, like chickenpox. Others feel immunizations are no longer necessary. In many ways, vaccinations have become a victim of their own success. Because they nearly wiped out diseases like measles and pertussis, people don’t realize how dangerous the illnesses can be.
Yet skipping shots can put not only your children, but also other kids, at risk. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, so if an outbreak occurs in an unvaccinated group of children, an immunized child could also get sick.
Many parents fear the risks of vaccinating, but the reality is that immunizations cause very few serious problems. Although they can have side effects, the risk of getting the disease is much greater, and many studies have discredited any theories that link vaccinations to disorders like autism. In fact, the original scientists who linked the measles, mumps and rubella shot to autism have retracted their findings. California has also banned the use of thimerosal—a preservative containing mercury, which some have linked to autism—in all vaccines given to children and pregnant women.
The bottom line is that vaccinations are safe and important. We advise that you follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended immunization schedule, which corresponds to your child’s wellness visits. If you’re not sure about your child’s shots, talk to your pediatrician.