By Dena Pepple, R.N. for Lee’s Summit Physicians Group
I love to read, and historical fiction is my favorite subject. For Christmas, my wonderful sister-in-law gave me a Barnes & Noble Nook. Since then, I’ve probably read three books a week about wars, orphan trains, politics, and more. Oddly, in several of these books disease epidemics, that we now have vaccines for, were an integral part of the story. As a pediatric nurse who talks to parents daily about immunizations, I found this very interesting.
Many of these diseases I’ve never seen personally, yet statistics and history tell me of their toll on human life.
In the 1920’s, 10,000+ lives were lost for several years in a row due to diphtheria. Polio paralyzed or killed thousands in the 1940’s and 1950’s. At the height of the measles outbreak, prior to vaccination, an estimated half a million children per year got the disease, with many progressing to pneumonia, encephalitis, and death. These, and many other diseases, were tragedies that today’s vaccines have saved us from. Vaccines have protected us so much that most people, like me, have not witnessed the death and destruction that many of these diseases have caused.
Knowing this disease/vaccine history and having the lives-saved statistics of vaccines at our fingertips:
…I wonder why some parents choose not to immunize.
I think there are three main reasons.
First, we in the vaccine world are “victims of our own success”. Most of the diseases we vaccinate for have seen a 90%+ decrease in reported cases. We rarely hear about or see these diseases and think it won’t happen to us, or it’s only in other countries.
Second, some parents have had no information about vaccines, and have genuine fear.
Lastly, there’s a HUGE amount of partial/mis-information easily available to us, and touted as the whole truth.
Of course, we don’t want to fix the first reason listed above, vaccine success. Keeping children healthy is what we are all about.
We can, however, work on the information problem. I tell parents, the most important thing for them to learn/do is: ASK QUESTIONS!!! If you have a worry, ASK! If something does not make sense, ASK! If you have a sixth sense about something, ASK!
The second thing I advise is consider the source and check facts. A children’s hospital is most likely more thorough and reliable than your neighbor, or a random web site. Below is a list of some partial or mis-information statements I’ve heard, followed by factual clarification.
SERIOUS DISEASES LIKE POLIO ARE GONE, SO WE DON’T NEED TO VACCINATE AGAINST THEM.
While many diseases have been wiped out or rarely occur in our country, they are still present around the world and are only a plane ride away. If an unvaccinated or under vaccinated person travels and contracts the disease from an infected person, then brings it back home, he/she may infect others. This opens us up for further spread of the once thought to be gone infection.
This is happening now with measles. We have already had 5 outbreaks of measles here in the United States this year. If this rate continues, we will have 3 times more cases this year than last year.
Polio is prevalent in other countries as well, so it is only a plane ride away. My dad had polio in 1951. He “saw black” for 4 days, was in the hospital for over a week, had severe muscle ache/pain and was very weak for about a month. He was lucky. In 1952 >3,000 people died from polio, and >21,000 were paralyzed. Until the disease is eradicated worldwide, we NEED to vaccinate.
BABIES IMMUNE SYSTEMS CAN’T HANDLE THE NUMBER OF VACCINES GIVEN TODAY.
The infant is already exposed to thousands of germs on a daily basis, whether they are in child care or not. Even if he/she got 11 vaccines at the same time, he/she would only use 0.1 % of his/her immune system to respond. Therefore, they can easily handle the number of vaccines given at any one time.
The goal is to protect them as early as possible when they’re most vulnerable to these diseases. Also, even though the number of vaccines has risen over the years, the antigen (substance that induces an immune response) load has gone down due to the refinements in the vaccines. This means we can protect our little ones from more diseases, while having an overall lower antigen load than previous generations received in their vaccines.
DELAYED IMMUNIZATION SCHEDULES ARE SAFER THAN STANDARD ONES.
Some parents believe that too many vaccines at once can cause problems, including developmental issues. Study after study denies this. In fact, by delaying immunizations, their children are at greater risk of contracting these diseases. These diseases can cause numerous health problems, up to and including death.
NATURAL IMMUNITY IS BETTER THAN IMMUNITY FROM VACCINES.
Natural immunity may last longer than vaccine derived immunity, but that is why there are booster shots. The risks, symptoms, and complications associated with getting the disease (to get that “natural immunity”) can be far worse. When my children got chickenpox 25 years ago, it was a breeze. Their main issue was itching and I had a week off of work, but many aren’t so lucky.
One of my little 6 month old patients was admitted to the hospital with so many blisters he looked like he had 3rd degree burns. One of our nurse practitioners took care of an 8 year old with chickenpox encephalitis. This child had brain damage, and spent months in the hospital and rehab. Pneumonia, cancer, and death can and does occur as a consequence of this “natural immunity”. In addition, there are some diseases, like tetanus, that don’t provide natural immunity.
THERE IS FORMALDEHYDE IN IMMUNIZATIONS, AND THAT IS A POISON.
Yes, there is a small amount of formaldehyde used in the production of vaccines to prevent contamination. Most of it is removed at the end of processing, before packaging. Some are concerned that it is used at all, but formaldehyde naturally occurs in the human body. Our bodies are continually producing/processing/eliminating formaldehyde, with about 1.5 mg always circulating in a 15 lb baby. One banana has 20 times more formaldehyde and one pear has 600 times more formaldehyde than a single vaccine.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS HERD IMMUNITY AND IT DOES NOT HURT YOUR CHILD IF MY CHILD IS NOT IMMUNIZED.
Yes there is, and yes it does! Herd immunity is a form of immunity that occurs when a significant number of the “herd” (you and me) are vaccinated, which then provides protection for those in the “herd” who do not have immunity (newborns, immune-compromised, elderly, etc). This is usually achieved with an 85-95% vaccination rate.
The higher the percentage of vaccinated persons does two things: there are less people in the first place who are susceptible to the disease, and if you don’t get the disease-you can’t give it. The “herd” then cocoons those who are still vulnerable to the disease. If less children are vaccinated, it weakens the herd, leaves the unvaccinated vulnerable to disease, which they can then spread to those who are not immune.
Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The statistics and stories are in our history books. I’ve read about them on my Nook. Let’s learn from our “history” and NOT repeat it.