By: M. Louisa Maranon-Lowe, M.D.
Childhood vaccinations have been the greatest public health achievement in the 20th century having had significant impact on human health. Because of vaccines, diseases such as smallpox have been eradicated from the world. In the United States polio, rubella (German measles), and diphtheria are mostly non-existent.
These diseases can be devastating. I have seen it firsthand. Having come from the Philippines, I have seen children dying from measles, tetanus, meningitis, and whooping cough, all preventable diseases by receiving immunizations specific for them. Here in the US we don’t see these diseases anymore. People become complacent and ignore the importance of vaccinations.
Controversial issues have recently been directed toward vaccines. There is fear and concern that vaccines may be the cause of diseases such as autism, hyperactivity, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and developmental delay among others. These concerns have caused some parents to delay vaccines or withhold them altogether from their children. As a result, there has been a recent resurgence of measles cases and whooping cough because of children not receiving their vaccinations.
Overwhelming studies however have proven again and again that there is no link to vaccines and autism or any of these other illnesses. Andrew Wakefield who initially published the study linking autism to vaccines has been discredited and was stripped of his license to practice medicine in the UK for giving out false information. In 2009, a court panel of special masters ruled that there is insufficient evidence to support an association between autism and certain vaccines. This ruling involved three test families who have children with autism and were seeking compensation through the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Autism can be a heart breaking disorder, often draining parents emotionally and financially. Although we still don’t exactly know the cause of autism, the most recent studies however have pointed to genetics as the most probable cause and some environmental factors as well. Many studies still need to be done in finding the true cause of autism and hopefully this may lead to treatments in the future for these children. Despite the overwhelming evidence however, there are still a number of anti-vaccine groups that propagate untruths about the link between vaccines and autism.
Thimerosol, a mercury containing preservative, is no longer contained in any childhood vaccine with the exception of multi-dose vials of the influenza vaccine.
Some parents have concerns that their children get too many shots at one time. The Institute of Medicine has found that multiple vaccines do not overwhelm or weaken the immune system. They are safe to be given together and side effects are not any more than if given separately.
No scientific evidence exists to support that delaying vaccinations or separating them is beneficial for children. In fact, the practice of delaying vaccinations could result in a greater likelihood for the child to get sick with a serious or life-threatening illness.
As with other medications there can be side effects to giving vaccines. Most of them are mild and the benefits still outweigh the risks of giving them. There are systems in place to protect children against rare side effects from vaccinations, among them VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) and the Vaccine Safety Datalink which allows us to determine whether a particular vaccine is the cause of a rare side effect.
Vaccines are safe to give to children and protect them from several diseases that can be deadly. I tell my patients how fortunate they are to have the opportunity to vaccinate their children. People from developing countries lose their children from these diseases because they were not lucky enough to have the means to immunize them.
Useful links: immunize.org