Posted on August 15, 2016
Why Risk It? Vaccines are Not Optional
Curiously, vaccine safety continues to be a topic of debate, which may be why vaccination rates for some diseases do not meet national public health goals. The fact is, immunizations have significantly reduced the incidence of many serious infectious diseases and medical professionals want to remind people that immunizations are safe, preserve life, and are critical for both children and adults.
Many parents reject immunizations out of the fear they do more harm than good. False articles—in both medical journals and online—and incorrect information pushed by celebrities seem to be getting in the way of solid, scientific facts associated with the benefits of immunization.
The Facts Should Outweigh the Myths
The World Health Organization addresses just a few of the many myths about vaccinations on its website:
Myth 1: Better hygiene and sanitation will make diseases disappear—vaccines are not necessary. The diseases now vaccinated against will return if vaccination programs are rejected. While better hygiene, hand washing, and clean water help, many infections can spread regardless of how clean we are.
Myth 2: Vaccines have several damaging and long-term side-effects that are yet unknown. Vaccination can even be fatal. Most vaccine reactions are usually minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. Serious health events are extremely rare and are carefully monitored and investigated. You are far more likely to be seriously injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine.
Myth 3: The combined vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) and the vaccine against poliomyelitis cause sudden infant death syndrome. There’s no causal link between the administering of the vaccines and sudden infant death, however, these vaccines are administered at a time when babies can suffer sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In other words, the SIDS deaths are co-incidental to vaccination and would have occurred even if no vaccinations had been given.
Myth 4: Vaccine-preventable diseases are almost eradicated in my country; there’s no reason to be vaccinated. Although vaccine-preventable diseases have become uncommon in many countries, the infectious agents that cause them continue to circulate in some parts of the world. In a highly inter-connected world, these agents can cross geographical borders and infect anyone who is not protected.
Myth 5: Vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses are just an unfortunate fact of life. Illnesses such as measles, mumps, and rubella are serious and can lead to severe complications in both children and adults, including pneumonia, encephalitis, blindness, diarrhea, ear infections, congenital rubella syndrome (if a woman becomes infected with rubella in early pregnancy), and death. All these diseases and suffering can be prevented with vaccines. Failure to vaccinate against these diseases leaves children unnecessarily vulnerable.
Myth 6: Giving a child more than one vaccine at a time can increase the risk of harmful side-effects, which can overload the child’s immune system. Scientific evidence shows that giving several vaccines at the same time has no adverse effect on a child’s immune system. Children are exposed to several hundred foreign substances that trigger an immune response every day. The simple act of eating food introduces new antigens into the body, and numerous bacteria live in the mouth and nose. A child is exposed to far more antigens from a common cold or sore throat than they are from vaccines.
Myth 7: Influenza is just a nuisance, and the vaccine isn’t very effective. Influenza is much more than a nuisance. It is a serious disease that kills 300,000 to 500,000 people worldwide every year. Most of influenza vaccines offer immunity to the three most prevalent strains circulating in any given season. It’s the best way to reduce your chances of severe flu and of spreading it to others.
Myth 8: It’s better to be immunized through disease than through vaccines. Vaccines interact with the immune system to produce an immune response similar to that produced by the natural infection, but they do not cause the disease or put the immunized person at risk of its potential complications.
Myth 9: Vaccines contain mercury which is dangerous. Thiomersal is an organic, mercury-containing compound added to some vaccines as a preservative. It is the most widely-used preservative for vaccines that are provided in multi-dose vials. There is no evidence to suggest the amount of thiomersal used in vaccines poses a health risk.
Myth 10: Vaccines cause autism. The 1998 study which raised concerns about a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism was later found to be seriously flawed, and the paper has been retracted by the journal that published it. Unfortunately, its publication set off a panic that led to dropping immunization rates, and subsequent outbreaks of these diseases. There’s no evidence of a link between MMR vaccine and autism or autistic disorders.
Still Have Doubts? Don’t!
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that:
> Out of 1,000 U.S. children who catch the measles, one to three of them will die.
> The average number of annual cases of measles in the twentieth century in the United States was over a half million. In 2010, thanks to successful vaccines, there were only 63 cases.
>Thirty-eight percent of children younger than 5 years of age who had measles required hospitalization.
> Eighty-five percent of babies born to mothers who had rubella in the first trimester will have birth defects.
> More than 95% of people who receive the MMR vaccine become immune to all three diseases.
The National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) wants all parents to know:
> Vaccines are thoroughly tested before licensing and carefully monitored after they are licensed to ensure that they are very safe.
> Vaccines are among the safest and most cost-effective ways to prevent disease. They not only protect vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases.
> Currently the U.S. has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in its history. The country’s long-standing vaccine safety system ensures that vaccines are as safe as possible.
Immunization for Infants & Children
Babies receive vaccinations that help protect them from 14 diseases by age 2. It is very important that babies receive all doses of each vaccine, as well as receive each vaccination on time. After age 2, children are still recommended to receive a yearly flu vaccine and will be due for additional vaccine doses between 4 and 6 years of age. Getting all of the recommended vaccines is one of the most important things parents can do to protect their children’s health.
When children are not vaccinated, the AAP warns they are at increased risk for disease and can spread disease to others in their play groups, child care centers, classrooms, and communities—including babies who are too young to be fully vaccinated, and people with weakened immune systems due to cancer and other health conditions. Child care settings and schools are highly susceptible to outbreaks of infectious diseases because students can easily spread illnesses to one another as a result of poor hand washing, uncovered coughs, and dense populations.
Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional about any vaccine-related questions or concerns, but make sure your children get the vaccinations they need when they need them. To find more information about vaccines, visit the CDC’s vaccine website for parents. To ensure your child is on schedule for all vaccines, use the CDC’s Instant Childhood Immunization Schedule.
Immunization for Preteens & Teens
Preteens and teens need the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap) vaccine, quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine, and the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine to protect against serious diseases.
The Tdap vaccine is a booster recommended at age 11 or 12 to help protect against three serious diseases: Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (also called whooping cough). It is also recommended for any teen (13 to 18 years old) who has not yet received the vaccine. It is especially important for older children and adults who will have close contact with babies younger than 1 year of age.
The quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for all preteens at age 11 or 12 for protection against the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. The two most severe and common illnesses caused by meningococcal disease are infections of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and the bloodstream (septicemia or bacteremia). Meningococcal disease can be very serious, even fatal.
The HPV vaccine is needed because it prevents cancer. Approximately 79 million Americans are infected with HPV and although most HPV infections will go away on their own, some infections can lead to cancer. The HPV vaccine is safe, effective, and can protect people from infection with the types of HPV that can cause certain cancers.
A yearly flu vaccine is also recommended for all children 6 months of age and older. Flu vaccines protect against flu illness and the other health problems that flu can cause, like pneumonia, dehydration (loss of body fluids), bronchitis, and even worsening of existing conditions like asthma or diabetes.
By making sure vaccines are up to date, parents can send their preteens and teens to middle school and high school—and also off to college—with protection from vaccine preventable diseases.
Immunization for Adults
All adults should get the flu vaccine each year to protect against seasonal flu. Every adult should also get the Tdap vaccine once if they did not receive it as a teen to protect against pertussis (whooping cough) and a tetanus (Td) booster shot every 10 years. Adults may need other vaccines—such as shingles, pneumococcal, hepatitis, HPV—depending on one’s age, occupation, travel, health status, vaccination history, and other risk factors.
The CDC offers an Adult Vaccine Quiz to help you discover what vaccines you may need.
Immunization for Pregnant Women
Vaccines are an important component of a healthy pregnancy. Women should be up-to-date on their vaccines before becoming pregnant and should receive vaccines against both the flu and whooping cough (pertussis) during pregnancy.
Pregnant women should get a dose of Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy between 27 and 36 weeks. When a pregnant woman receives a whooping cough vaccine, her body creates protective antibodies and passes some of them to her baby before birth. These antibodies provide the baby some short-term protection against whooping cough until he or she is able to start receiving his or her own vaccine at 2 months of age.
Getting a flu shot protects pregnant women from the flu. Even if you are generally healthy, changes in immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make you more likely to get seriously ill from the flu. Studies show that getting a flu shot while you are pregnant can also decrease your baby’s risk of getting the flu for up to six months after birth.
National Immunization Awareness Month is a great time to promote vaccines and remind family, friends, and coworkers to stay up to date on their shots!
For more information on immunizations for the entire family, contact one of Coastal Carolina Health Care’s family practices: CCHC New Bern Family Practice, at (252) 633-1678, or CCHC Twin Rivers Family Practice, at (252) 636-2664.
(Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, National Public Health Information Coalition, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, World Health Organization, and Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.)