The long overdue retraction by the British Medical Journal Lancet of a 1989 study linking injection of the MMR vaccine to autism should reassure parents that this important vaccine is safe and will protect their children from life threatening disease.
Not only is the original study that tried to show an association between the vaccine and gastrointestinal symptoms completely discredited, but the subsequent studies which investigated the safety of MMR have all shown the vaccine to be safe.
Now, parents who have to decide whether to vaccinate their child against measles, mumps and rubella can feel good that the combination shot saves the child pain (one shot versus three), saves time (one visit instead of three), and is safe.
Much damage to the perception of vaccine safety was done by Dr. Wakefield and his unethical "study." In recent years the folks who wanted to believe in this theory have inappropriately extended their concern to preservatives like thimerosol and now to the H1N1 vaccine. As a result, a percentage of our population is either partially vaccinated or totally unvaccinated.
When you decide not to vaccinate your child, you put your child at risk of getting that illness and you also put all children exposed to your child at higher risk of getting that illness.
Let me explain. If a child is not vaccinated for a particular illness, they obviously are at an increased risk as there is no way their immune system has any way of fighting off the virus or bacteria. When a child receives a vaccine, there is a small chance that their immune system will not make a response, leaving this child susceptible to the offending organism should it ever come around. This non-responding child is at a higher risk of coming across the organism when around unvaccinated children. The more unvaccinated children, the higher the risk for the child whose parents tried to make her immune.
As a parent of two kindergartners, a part of me wants to know if their classmates are fully vaccinated. I don't know if they are vaccine responders or not. Doctors don't typically check to make sure. I don't want my fully vaccinated kids or other kids to be at a higher risk of coming across a vaccine-preventable illness. Perhaps, if there were unvaccinated kids in their classroom, I would insist that I know my children's immune status. And, perhaps, if it showed that they did not respond to a vaccine, then we could try again to see if they would respond.
I endorse the recommended vaccine schedule that is published each year by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control. Yet, I see and hear many things in the media and popular press that annoy me as they are comments that are not fully grounded in up-to-date medical science or even common sense.
As a pediatrician I've received too many digital alerts from the American Academy of Pediatrics. You see, these alerts are about deaths. The AAP is now routinely sending out urgent emails to us when they are informed of more deaths of children in the U.S. from vaccine-preventable illnesses.
We are all trying to do what is best for kids. I have both a medical education which has taught me to stay current in scientific study and I have, at least, a sufficient amount of common sense (although my wife might argue this one sometimes). Here is what I know for sure:
- Children should not die in the U.S. (or anywhere for that matter) from vaccine-preventable diseases.
- Causes for many medical conditions, including autism, are not yet discovered.
- Vaccines that are currently recommended for all children in the U.S. have been tested to a degree that makes me comfortable with their safety.
- The benefits of vaccinating children and adults against disease far outweigh the known side effects.
When deciding whether to fully vaccinate your child, you are deciding whether to put other children at higher risk of injury or death. Hemophilus Influenza Type B (HIB), is the bacteria that causes meningitis or brain infection. HIB kills unvaccinated children, partially vaccinated children and those who are vaccinated but happen to not have responded to the vaccine.
I want to stop getting e-alerted that children are dying in the U.S. from HIB. I want to stop hearing outdated, factually inaccurate medical advice in the media, on websites and in the popular press. I want our limited resources to be going toward just some of the much more urgent needs in our society. One urgent need is to have available the appropriate developmental resources for those children who have autism or another form of developmental delay. I feel the pendulum of vaccine fear swinging back toward the reality of the need to protect our children from many illnesses that we truly should fear. Doctors and medical scientists have the best interest of children at heart. Those who are opposed to recommended vaccination have been quite vocal and it is time for those who choose to vaccinate to be heard. I want our families to trust medical science. I want all children to have a medical home where they can be taken to a doctor. I want all children to be fully vaccinated.
I want to hear from you on this important public health issue.