I live in an area where most of the parents I know are college grads. It is amazing to me how many of them (not the majority, but a significant number) have decided not to vaccinate their children because of the “risk.” The risk, of course, is the possibility that a child will have a bad reaction. That risk is real, but small. Certainly it’s small compared to the number of children who used to die or become permanently damaged because of measles or polio or diptheria, or any number of foul illnesses. Indeed, if you want a feel for what real risk is about, watch the spread of polio through Islamic countries that have decided for ideological reasons to halt vaccinations, or in Africa, where a combination of poverty, war and ideological beliefs has stopped vaccinations.
In any event, one Marin doctor is trying to turn the tide amongst those people here who have an irrational fear of vaccinations:
I assisted on the autopsy of a 1-year-old boy who had died of hemorrhagic pancreatitis, secondary to infection by an organism called “hemophilus” or HIB. Pancreatitis is one of the most painful conditions that humans can experience. As I looked at this infant’s damaged pancreas, I could not imagine his excruciating pain and his inconsolable distress, not to mention the heart-wrenching loss suffered by his parents.
Aside from causing pancreatitis, this species of hemophilus was also responsible for outbreaks of deadly bacterial meningitis, mostly in children. Until 20 years ago, up to 1 in every 200 children was affected with some illness caused by HIB. Emergency physicians were always on guard against epiglottitis, which could cause total airway obstruction in a child.
Then 20 years ago, a vaccine against this bacteria arrived. Soon, millions of children were receiving it, including my infant son. I have not seen a case of HIB meningitis or epiglottitis since then. The incidence of HIB (that is, the number of new cases per year) has dropped 99 percent since 1985. The current cases occur almost exclusively in unvaccinated or insufficiently vaccinated children.
The same story can be told about rubella. Once a major cause of birth defects, now is all but eradicated in this country. What about polio and smallpox? They’re gone.
I recently attended a meeting of employers trying to gain some control over the skyrocketing costs of health insurance. During our lunch break, we were having an informal discussion of childhood immunizations. One of the insurance executives at the meeting told me his belief that childhood immunizations were required solely in order to make more money for the drug companies.
I said, “Oh, my goodness.” (Actually I didn’t say that, but I cannot print what I really did say.) However, I did proceed to inform him how I felt that he was misinformed.
Dr. Gross explains in his article that vaccines do carry risks, but that they are lower than the risks of doing without vaccinations. Heck, in this age of biological warfare, whether waged by nations, Non-Governmental Armies, or individual nutcases, I’d happily hie me and my family off to get a smallpox vaccination.