Parents have varied reasons for choosing not to immunize their children. Some are concerned that vaccinations raise the risk of autism, although a 1998 published study was retracted in 2010 due to false findings in the study. Some parents choose not to vaccinate for religious or philosophical reasons. Some parents think that because some of the illnesses for which children get immunized are extremely rare these days, there’s little reason to vaccinate. But the reality is these diseases do exist, and we are already seeing some of them make a come back.
Measles, a potentially deadly disease that was once eliminated in the United States, has rebounded in recent years. You may have read of the measles threat earlier this year in California when an infected college student rode the public transit system, possibly exposing hundreds of thousands of people to the disease. Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. A measles infection can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and meningitis. One or two of every 1,000 infected children will die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, 189 U.S. cases were reported.
A mumps outbreak is currently under investigation in central Ohio. Students and associated individuals with the Ohio State University have been sickened by exposure to the viral disease. With a particularly long incubation period — as long as 25 days — and the fact that some people who are infected may not exhibit symptoms yet transmit the disease to others, there may be a prolonged outbreak period.
In 2013, Madison County, Ohio had 72 reports of pertussis (whooping cough). The majority of these reports were the result of the outbreak investigation that occurred in one county school district. The confirmed case rate for Madison County of 117 per 100,000 persons presented a high risk to the vulnerable population. Newborns and very young children who have not been fully vaccinated as well as the elderly or immunosuppressed individuals.
Children are vaccinated for protection from dangerous diseases like chicken pox, diphtheria, Hepatitis A and B, Hib, HPV, influenza, measles, meningococcal, mumps, pneumococcal, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, and whooping cough. Each of these diseases can kill. Some of them kill at high rates. All of these diseases can cause lasting harm or notable suffering.
Regardless of these health events, some parents will choose not to vaccinate their child. While vaccines are not 100 percent risk free, not vaccinating carries its own risk. Extensive data shows that the risks of not vaccinating far outweighs the risks of vaccinating. An unintentional vaccine side effect is a highly undesirable outcome that scientists work hard to avoid.
The primary purpose of vaccines is to protect an individual who would otherwise be left at risk. If vaccination rates are high enough, the concept of “herd immunity” offers additional protection to everyone. Some areas in the U.S. have fallen below that herd immunity rate. Except for the rare few individuals who have true medical contraindications, vaccinating is the safer choice for the individual and the community.
Local public health works tirelessly to reach all populations with immunization needs. No one will be turned away due to the inability to pay. Vaccination is a social contract we have with each other and our community in the prevention of disease. Plan early. Call the Madison County-London City Health District at (740) 852-3065 to schedule you and your family’s immunization needs.
Kathy Husek is the Epidemiologist at Madison County-London City Health District and can be reached at (740) 852-3065.