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To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate? That is the Question

As late as the 1950s, more than 20,000 cases of polio were reported in the U.S. each year. Many of these cases resulted in paralysis or even death. Less than 20 years after a vaccine became available, polio infections were reduced to about 10 total. The polio vaccine essentially “wiped out” the crippling disease. But this left some parents to wonder why their children must still receive shots for diseases that do not seem to exist. Myths and misinformation about vaccine safety are abundant and can confuse parents who are trying to make sound decisions about their children’s healthcare.

Why should I vaccinate my child?

Many consider vaccines to be one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time. Many devastating diseases that have killed millions of people have been nearly eliminated through the practice of vaccinating. Furthermore, immunizations have had an enormous impact on improving the health of children in the United States. Most parents today have never seen first-hand the devastating consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases have on a family or community. While some diseases are not common in the U.S., they persist around the world. It is important that we continue to protect our children with vaccines because outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases can, and do, occur in this country. Vaccination is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children, and teens from certain harmful diseases.

How do vaccines prevent disease?

The diseases that vaccines prevent can be dangerous, or even deadly. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s natural defenses to help it develop immunity to disease. When germs, such as bacteria or viruses, invade the body, they attack and multiply. This invasion is called an infection, and the infection is what causes illness. The immune system then has to fight the infection. Once it fights off the infection, the body is left with the ability to recognize and fight that disease in the future.

Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection, but this “imitation” infection does not cause illness. It does, however, cause the immune system to develop the same response as it does to a real infection so the body can recognize and fight the vaccine-preventable disease in the future. Sometimes, after getting a vaccine, the imitation infection can cause minor symptoms, such as fever. These minor symptoms are normal and common as the body builds immunity.

Are vaccines safe?

Because vaccines must be safe for use by as many people as possible, vaccines are developed in accordance with the highest standards of safety. Years of testing are required by law before a vaccine is licensed and distributed. Once in use, vaccines are continually monitored for safety and efficacy. As a result, the United States currently has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history.

Still, many parents worry that vaccinating their children could cause severe side effects and lead to unexpected health conditions. While there are numerous blogs on the internet that aim to steer parents away from vaccinating their children, research does not support these claims. Multiple scientific studies have been conducted to determine if there is a link between vaccines and health conditions such as autism and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Those studies, which are supported by the CDC, have shown that vaccinating your child does not put him/her at risk for developing autism or SIDS. Further details on the safety of any recommended vaccines are available at Sound Family Medicine before you have your child protected with a vaccine.

What would happen if we stopped vaccinating?

Until we have eliminated diseases, it is important to keep immunizing against them. Even if there are only a few cases of disease today, we should still vaccinate. The reason being, if we remove the protection vaccination gives, more and more people will be infected and will spread disease to others. Soon we will undo the progress we have made over the years.

In 1974, Japan had a successful pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination program, with nearly 80% of Japanese children vaccinated. That year, only 393 cases of pertussis were reported in the entire country, and there were no deaths from pertussis. But then rumors began to spread that pertussis vaccination was no longer needed and that the vaccine was not safe. By 1976 only 10% of infants were getting vaccinated and in 1979, Japan suffered a major pertussis epidemic. That year, there was more than 13,000 cases of whooping cough and 41 deaths. In 1981, the government resumed pertussis vaccinations, and the number of pertussis cases dropped again.

If we stopped vaccinating in the United States, diseases that are almost unknown would stage a comeback. Before long, we would see epidemics of diseases that are nearly under control today. More children would get sick and more would die.

We vaccinate to protect our future.

We don’t vaccinate just to protect our children – we vaccinate to protect our grandchildren and their grandchildren. With one disease, smallpox, we stopped the disease in its tracks and nearly eradicated it. Our children don’t have to get smallpox shots anymore because the disease no longer exists. If we keep vaccinating now, parents in the future may be able to trust that diseases like polio and meningitis won’t infect, cripple, or kill children. Vaccinations are one of the best ways to put an end to the serious effects of certain diseases.

While we keep an immunization record for your child, the CDC has a tool that you can use to create a custom immunization schedule based on your child’s birth date.

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