Protecting your children is a top priority as a parent. You want what’s best for them and to create an environment where they can grow and thrive. Immunizations may create some risks for children, but in most cases the benefits far outweigh the risks. Here’s some information about vaccines that can help as you seek to do what’s best for your child.
Immunizations are Safer than the Diseases They Protect Against
Some people worry that immunizations aren’t safe or can cause disease. Although there is a risk of reaction with some immunizations, the most common side effect is mild pain and inflammation at the injection site. Some vaccines, including the diphtheria vaccine, can cause a low-grade fever for a few days. Serious side effects are rare. Vaccines are rigorously tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being approved for use. They are also carefully monitored for safety. Most immunizations cause no reaction at all.
On the other hand, the diseases these immunizations protect against can be life-threatening. Outbreaks of influenza, chickenpox, measles and whooping cough continue to result in the hospitalization, and sometimes death, of otherwise healthy children. Worldwide, vaccinations prevent between 2 and 3 million deaths each year. Many of the diseases we have vaccinations for have decreased by more than 95 percent.
Vaccine-Preventable Diseases are Still Present
With the dramatic reduction in vaccine-preventable diseases, it’s tempting to think that immunizing against those diseases is no longer necessary. Unfortunately, those diseases are still present, particularly in countries with less access to vaccines. Without immunizations, diseases can return. This is especially true in the global world we live in. As people travel from one country to another, they may pick up diseases and spread them around. One person traveling to a country where a disease isn’t eliminated can get infected and spark an outbreak when they return home.
The MMR Vaccine and Autism
Many people have heard that there might be a link between the MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) vaccine and autism. This is not true; vaccines don’t cause autism. This debate was started by a study that was published that linked autism and the MMR vaccine. An independent panel reviewed the study and found that it was flawed. The panel went so far as to say the study was conducted in a way that was “dishonest, irresponsible and misleading.” The study has since been retracted. Unfortunately, the rumor it started continues to circulate.
Benefits of Immunizations
Immunizations offer a number of benefits, including the following:
- Cost-effective – Preventing diseases is much less expensive than treating them; immunizations save money by preventing diseases. Spending one dollar on childhood immunizations saves over $18.
- Safe – Immunizations are designed to protect children, and receive extensive testing and monitoring to make sure they are safe.
- Effective – Most vaccinations are 90 to 95 percent effective at preventing the diseases they target.
- Protect those around you – Not everyone is able to get immunized. By making sure you and your children are vaccinated, you help stop the spread of diseases and protect those who can’t get immunized.
- Simple and mostly painless – Immunizations are usually fast and easy to administer, and generally leave the patient with little or no pain from the injection.
- Protection for travel – Traveling can put you at risk for diseases that are uncommon in the United States. Immunizations help protect you from diseases you may encounter in other countries.
One important aspect of immunization is the idea of herd immunity. This is the concept that an immunized community helps protect those who can’t get immunized or are more susceptible by slowing the spread of disease. People who are more susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases include:
- Infants too young to be vaccinated
- The elderly
- Pregnant women
- Children and adults who haven’t been vaccinated
- People with weakened immune systems
- People allergic to components of vaccines
Areas with low vaccination rates create pockets where diseases can quickly spread, but in areas with high vaccination rates it’s hard for diseases to spread. With most vaccine-preventable diseases, the threshold for effective herd immunity is over 80 to 90 percent of the population immunized. Having a population with high immunization rates helps protect those who are vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Parents’ Right to Choose
One big objection to immunizations is that it’s mandated by the government. People often say that parents should have the right to choose whether or not their children get immunized. This is an important point, but it can be helpful to think of immunization as a matter of public health. Children who don’t get vaccinated can create a health risk for others. It’s not just their own children that parents are putting at risk, it’s also the children around them, particularly those who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons. While all states allow for medical exemptions, many states also allow parents to not vaccinate their children for moral or religious reasons.
Immunizations tend to generate a lot of discussion, but the overall benefits are impressive. Immunization has been called one of the greatest achievements in public health during the 20th century. The dramatic decrease in vaccine-preventable diseases due to immunizations continues to save lives and help people stay healthy. If you are worried about the safety of immunizing your child or wondering if there are medical reasons your child shouldn’t get vaccinated, then talk to your doctor about your concerns. They can help you determine what’s best for your child.