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The ongoing debate: To vaccinate or not

Over in a second; lasts for a lifetime.
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Although experts and the vast majority of Americans contend that refusal to have a child vaccinated leaves everyone at risk of contracting once sidelined diseases, more and more parents are opting out and for such reasons as:

  1. Thinking the shots are unnecessary;
  2. Fear of health risks, autism in particular;
  3. Too much trouble;
  4. Too many are given.

On that last item, truth be told, by age six, a child will have been “shot” about 24 times—and that's too many for concerned parents. So is the fact that, as Barbara Lee Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center, reports: “U.S. health officials now recommend 69 doses of 16 vaccines for every child. States mandated up to 15 of the—twice as many as 30 years ago.” That, alone, gives lots of folks pause.

As for the fear factor, we need to go back to 1998 and British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield. At the time, his assertion that a link existed between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism was published in The Lancet, and it spiraled from there.

Largely ignored was the fact that he’d interviewed the parents of only 12 children, a research flaw that got it panned by those in the know. But that didn’t deter the press or the many parents who latched on to his conclusions--and so the damage was done. By the time, in 2010, when The Lancet retracted his paper and the United Kingdom’s General Medical Council revoked his medical license, it was too late to undo the harm he’d caused.

Indeed, now often referred to as the “autism guru,” Wakefield continues to have a following.

Then there’s the celebrity factor with the likes of Jenny McCarthy, a former Playboy model who also co-hosted Singled Out and doled out advice as a columnist. On top of all that, last July 15, she was hired as a co-host of The View, lending credence to her position that vaccines are linked to autism in children, including her now 11-year-old son.

Time’s James Poniewozik called the move “media malpractice.”

He goes on to write that, “Vaccine scaremongering … is spreading a belief that is empirically wrong, refuted by study after study. And fear of vaccines doesn’t just potentially harm the children whose parents forgo vaccinations but also other kids, as well as immunocompromised adults, by threatening the herd immunity that we rely on to protect the larger population.”

Pushing back, too, is the jennymccarthybodycount site which presents the following June 3, 2007 to April 5, 2014 data:

  • # of preventable illnesses: 130,730
  • # of preventable deaths: 1,381
  • # of autism diagnoses scientifically linked to vaccinations: 0

That, too, should give us pause.

Meanwhile, last year, in California alone, 14,921 kindergarteners went unprotected; so far this year the states has seen 49 cases of measles. Meanwhile, more than 4.5% of kindergarteners in Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, and Vermont went unvaccinated for non-medical reasons. Such states are now considered potential disease “hot spots.”

And the upshot? This USA Today front page headline tells it all: “Killer diseases creeping back: Outbreaks point to anti-vaccine trends.” In fact, according to the CDC:

  • The number of measles cases jumped from 55 in 2012 to 189 in 2013.
  • So far this year, 49 cases of measles have been reported in California alone.
  • So far this year, 115 measles cases have been reported across the country.
  • In 2012, 24,231 cases of whooping cough were reported across the country.
  • In 2012, 480 cases of meningitis were reported—as were 75 resulting deaths.
  • It’s estimated that measles will infect 3 times more people now than it did in 2009.As

Despite these upward trends, reality TV start Kristin Cavallari says that not vaccinating was “the best decision” for her children. Meanwhile, Kim Hart, a California mother of two goes so far as to say, “As a parent, I’d rather deal with my kids dealing with measles or mumps and sit with them in a hospital … than taking your chances on a shot and having irreversible effects.”

That, of course, is an interesting take on the subject given that going unprotected can have permanent and terrible effects, too. Take, for instance, Jeremiah Mitchell who, at six, was stricken with meningitis. Yes, he survived, but only because doctors amputated his arms and legs, along with parts of his eyelids, jaw, and ears.

As for measles, says Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s director of immunizations and respiratory diseases: “We really don’t want a child to die from measles, but it’s almost inevitable.”

Remember: At one time, measles killed about 450 children every year.

And who is most vulnerable? Infants too young to be vaccinated, children with compromised immune systems, and those not vaccinated for medical reasons. Also at risk: The children of such folks as Ms. Cavallari who chose to keep their children unprotected.

Meanwhile, vaccines are imperative for us adults, too—for our own sakes and that “herd” we commune with in our daily lives. Topping the must-haves list:

  1. An annual flu shot
  2. TDAP (tetanus, diphtheria & pertussis)—a one-time shot even after having a tetanus booster within the past 10 years
  3. HPV (human papillomavirus)—a one-time series of 3 shots: 2 shots, 4 to 8 weeks apart, and a booster 6 months later.
  4. Hepatitis B—a one-time series of 3 shots: 2 shots 4 weeks apart & a booster 6 months later.

Bottom line: Get your kids all their shots and then add yourself to that vaccination to-do list. No regrets.