Thursday, October 18, 2007

Troubling Trend of Avoiding Vaccinations in Children

A recent article noted how more parents, skeptical about the value of vaccinations and worried about the linkage of immunizations with other problems like autism, are using religious grounds to be exempted from mandatory childhood vaccinations.

This troubling trend is fortunately relatively small. Highlights from the article.

  • The number of exemptions is extremely small in percentage terms and represents just a few thousand of the 3.7 million children entering kindergarten in 2005, the most recent figure available.
  • In 1991, a religious group in Philadelphia that chose not to immunize its children touched off an outbreak of measles that claimed at least eight lives and sickened more than 700 people, mostly children.
  • And in 2005, an Indiana girl who had not been immunized picked up the measles virus at an orphanage in Romania and unknowingly brought it back to a church group. Within a month, the number of people infected had grown to 31 in what health officials said was the nation's worst outbreak of the disease in a decade.
I understand the parents' concerns. I also am more concerned that people have forgotten how many of these illnesses, like polio, measles, mumps, were debilitating and devastating in the past and that generations of adults, through the use of vaccines years ago, have avoided those complications or premature and preventable deaths.

This past winter, I saw first hand how powerful and effective vaccinations are. When I examined one patient, in his late 30s who was vaccinated against influenza, he felt well in a day or two despite having the flu. This was in stark contrast to other patients in their early 20s, who weren't vaccinated, felt miserable, stayed in bed for days, and wanting to die (they didn't of course). If you've had the flu, you know what they mean, fever often up to 103 to 104 F and every muscle, joint, and bone aching relentlessly. On follow-up months later, the latter group all without hesitation planned on getting the flu shot this fall, even though they are not required to based on current vaccination guidelines.

With recent reports about the rise of bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics resulting in 19,000 deaths and the findings that cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), individuals skipping vaccinations maybe missing opportunities to stay healthy.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
* George Santayana (1905) Life of Reason vol. I, ch. XII Charles Scribner's Sons

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