As the beginning of a new school year approaches and parents prepare to send their children off to school or daycare, getting vaccinations up-to-date is one of the best ways to ensure your family’s healthy future. August is National Immunization Awareness Month; a good time to make sure your children are protected from preventable diseases. Immunizations keep our children safe from some of the most deadly and disabling diseases in history – including measles, polio and diphtheria.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are now vaccines to protect children against 14 diseases before the age of two. There are another 2 vaccines specially designed for preteens. Despite the obvious lifesaving benefits of vaccination, more than 20 percent of the nation’s two-year-olds are not fully immunized against infectious diseases to which they are especially vulnerable.
“Vaccines have done such a good job of controlling diseases, particularly in the United States, that as parents we sometimes forget just how important they are and what life would be like without them,” says Meg Fisher, M.D., Chairman of Pediatrics and Medical Director of the Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center. “Most parents of young children today have no experience with widespread illness and the devastation it can have on our population. They don’t know what it’s like to have their neighbor’s child paralyzed by polio or fear for their own children’s health like parents did in this country years ago – before vaccines became available,” she adds.
“Unfortunately, many of these preventable diseases, with the exception of smallpox, are still rampant in other countries, where vaccination rates are lower. What that means is a resurgence of these diseases is possible anywhere that vaccinations are delayed or stopped,” she adds.
In 2002, the World Heath Organization reported that childhood illnesses – and resulting fatalities – from vaccine preventable illnesses persist worldwide. These include: diphtheria (4,000 deaths), Haemophilus influenzae type b (386,000 deaths), measles (540,000 deaths), mumps (over 440,000 cases in children and adults in 2006) pertussis (294,000 deaths), poliomyelitis (less than 1,000 deaths), rubella (191 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 2006), smallpox (eradicated worldwide in 1980), tetanus (198,000 deaths) and yellow fever (15,000 deaths).
The CDC estimates that fully vaccinating all U.S. children born in a given year from birth to adolescence saves 33,000 lives, prevents 14 million infections and saves $10 billion in medical costs. Still, some parents question the safety of vaccinating their children and whether the benefits of vaccines outweigh their risks.
Misperceptions about vaccines have existed as long as the vaccines themselves, according to Dr. Fisher, but, in recent years, myths about vaccines, their safety and their risks have been fueled by the media and access to the Internet.
“When it comes to vaccination information, it’s important for parents to seek out reliable sources for their information,” cautions Dr. Fisher. “Talk candidly with your child’s doctor about your concerns and listen carefully to the pros and cons of vaccination and to the facts about the diseases they prevent.”
Recent media reports concerning an alleged link between thimerosal – a mercury-based vaccine preservative – and autism have many parents additionally concerned. Doctors, like Fisher, are afraid that misinformation about any connection and increasing parental concern could lead to delayed or lower vaccination rates and a surge in preventable diseases in this country.
In fact, in the first six months of this year, over 150 confirmed cases of measles were reported in the U.S. This is the largest increase in measles cases during this time period since the 1990s. Almost all cases had links to other countries, and The majority of cases occurred in children who were either too young to be vaccinated or whose parents decided to forego vaccination.
“The truth is, vaccines are safe and they’re highly effective against diseases that can be lifethreatening. Furthermore, no scientific link between vaccinations and autism has ever been established,” says Dr. Fisher. Still, she notes, that as a precaution the use of thimerosal by vaccine manufacturers has been virtually eliminated. Today, with the exception of some flu vaccines, none of the vaccines used in this country to protect infants and preschool-aged children against infectious diseases contain the mercury-based preservative.
While Dr. Fisher admits that there are some risks associated with vaccines, she stresses that serious reactions are rare. “People can react to vaccinations differently,” she says. “But the vast majority of side effects are mild to moderate and short term,” she says. Reactions can include a slight fever, rash or soreness at the injection site.
“The United States currently has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history. All of our vaccines undergo extensive testing in a process that can take ten years or more before they are approved for use,” she adds. Once vaccines have received approval, according to Fisher, they are continually monitored for safety and efficacy as well as for any adverse reactions.
“The risks of not having your child vaccinated and exposing them to a disease like the measles – which can be fatal or leave them with long-term health consequences – far outweighs the risk of vaccination,” she adds.
This month, make up-to-date immunizations a priority for your family. Check with your child’s doctor to make sure that he or she has been fully immunized against preventable diseases. To speak with Dr. Fisher, or for a referral to another pediatrician on staff at the Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center, please call 1-888-724-7123.
Date: July 25, 2008
CONTACT: Kristine A. Brown
Director of Public Relations
[ top ] [ back to
News Index ]