Trust your doctor on vaccines

Compared to some doctors, I am an old one.

I know that because I applied for Medicare a few months ago. I also know that because I have seen children die with meningitis caused by pneumococcus, H. influenzae, or meningoccocus—germs many have never heard of. I am old enough to have seen children die with tetanus and others who died or have permanent brain damage from pertussis (whooping cough) or chickenpox encephalitis. I have cared for children in the ICU who had epiglottis and cellulitis from H. influenzae. I have seen children die from the measles. Now, we rarely see any of these diseases. Why is that? It’s simple: vaccines.

Yet there are people, despite overwhelming evidence, who still choose not to vaccinate their children—can you believe that? In doing so, they are failing to utilize one of the best, safest and most effective measures for preventing disease and death that has ever been invented. The anti-vaxx movement is comparable to being against clean drinking water and wearing seat belts. Why would anyone who cares about their children’s well-being not want to vaccinate?

Currently, and for some time now, we have to have discussions with parents and other caregivers in my office regarding the importance of vaccines—and we are not alone. Other pediatricians and family doctors are discussing them, people who work in public health are discussing them, executive directors and members of organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Immunization Practices (ACIP) and even the World Health Organization (WHO) are all finding reasons to spread accurate information about vaccines. The WHO now lists the anti-vaccination movement as one of the major threats to the world.

The reasons why some parents do not vaccinate are varied and based largely on non-medical, non-science-based beliefs. Some caregivers think the diseases are not serious or life-threatening, that their children are not at risk, that vaccines don’t work, or that vaccines are unsafe. If you think diseases like influenza are not serious, realize that each year thousands die from the flu, including several hundred healthy children. In 2017-18, twice as many people died from the flu as from car accidents, according to data from the CDC.

There are also conspiracy theories swirling around out there about pharmaceutical companies or government agencies pursuing unsavory goals or money-making schemes. Recently, some social media sites have been removing anti-vaccine stories because due to misinformation contained within them. This is a big deal. Because parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children as recommended, some diseases are making a comeback. Just last week, Sullivan County health officials declared two official cases of measles in the area on the heels of an outbreak in other parts of the state. Additionally, pertussis outbreaks occur, with pneumonia and meningitis not far behind.

If you had seen the results of these diseases like I have seen them, you would be begging your doctor to give vaccines to you and your children.

With all the varied information and stories out there, how can one decide about vaccinations? Here are some suggestions. One: talk to your doctor. There is a reason you picked him or her to be your doctor. They went to school, they know about vaccinations, current information and relevant facts. They can help you weigh the risks and benefits, and they’re pretty interested in your health!

Two: trust the public agencies charged with vaccine safety. Vaccines are not only studied for efficacy and possible adverse effects before they come to market, but they are also continuously monitored for safety after they are already approved. Vaccines have to pass a very high safety standard to be FDA-approved—higher than most drugs, including plain old penicillin.

Three: educate yourself by reading well-established medical sites that base their information on science and medical studies, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics or the Childrens’ Hospital of Philadelphia Vaccine Education site.

Consider the repercussions of not vaccinating your children. I don’t mind feeling old if it means that certain life-threatening diseases are well behind us. 

 

Dr. Paul Diamond, MD, is a pediatrics specialist in Honesdale, PA. He graduated from Stony Brook University School Of Medicine in 1983 and has been practicing for more than 30 years.

 

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