Children must rely on adults to make the right decisions about their health. It's not always easy for parents to make these decisions, but knowing our children will be healthier in the end motivates us to choose what's best. Yet, sometimes, our individual choice isn't enough and we depend on our neighbors to do the right thing as well.
Immunization is one of those community decisions. When we are not able to get a vaccination or don't develop protection after vaccination for some reason, we hope those around us are vaccinated so they don't get sick and infect us. Despite the astounding success vaccines have had over the last century, a vocal minority will have us believe they harm our children. To be sure, immunization works, and it works well. But like most preventative things in life, immunization is not an absolute guarantee of good health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed a schedule of when children can most benefit from vaccination. Some parents, understandably confused by false information, choose to not vaccinate or to follow an alternative schedule. When parents skip or delay a vaccination, they are choosing to leave their child unprotected during a time when the disease can be most fatal.
Take an example from the Washington Post blog: Some parents want to delay the whooping cough vaccine for the first 12 months of a child's life, yet it's those children younger than 1 year who most often die from the respiratory disease. And because it takes a series of vaccinations to become fully immunized, even an up-to-date 6-month-old can become infected with whooping cough and get seriously ill.
Compounding the problem is that children of parents who spread out vaccines are less likely to get all the recommended doses. In the past, those unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children had some protection from the large number of children who were fully vaccinated. However, the number of unvaccinated children is unfortunately growing. If one or two out of 10 children are not immunized, serious diseases are more likely to spread in clusters.
Unlike parental decisions about car seats, brushing teeth or nutritious foods, when parents choose to not immunize their children it affects the entire community. The most likely to suffer if these diseases return are those who cannot receive vaccines, such as very young babies and those in poor health.
Many parents are understandably concerned about autism. However, autism is just as common among unvaccinated children as vaccinated children. Additionally, the mercury-containing ingredient that some believe causes autism was removed from vaccines in 2001, yet autism rates have not decreased. Studies upon studies have shown that vaccines do not cause autism.
Parents should make informed decisions that affect the health of their children and the community. Websites from trustworthy organizations can be helpful, such as CDC.gov and Every Child By Two (vaccinateyourbaby.com). I also encourage parents to hear personal stories from those affected by vaccine preventable disease at ShotByShot.org.
May is Toddler Immunization Month. Take a moment to check your children's vaccination history and make sure they are not at risk of any serious vaccine-preventable diseases. Your children and your neighbors are depending on you.
For immunization information in Contra Costa County, visit www.cchealth.org/topics/immunization
Mr. Leung is the Immunization Coordinator for the Public Health Division of Contra Costa Health Services.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.