In the late 18th Century, two famous people had to make an important decision concerning vaccinating their child. The first vaccine, for smallpox, had just been discovered.
Benjamin Franklin, a scientist in his own right, was not comfortable with possible side effects and chose to not immunize Ben Jr. At age 4, Ben Jr. died of smallpox. Benjamin Franklin says in his autobiography that it was the worst decision of his life and that he was devastated knowing that he could have prevented his child’s death.
Catherine the Great was the Tsarist of Russia at that time. She was extremely afraid that her son, and heir to the crown, would catch smallpox. She went through much difficulty and expense to get the vaccine into Russia and immunized her entire family and court. None of them ever got smallpox (nor side effects).
The controversy over vaccines has not stopped since. But there should be no controversy at all. Vaccines have saved countless lives and have made parents more comfortable. Before vaccines, many children would die before adulthood because of now-preventable diseases with the help of vaccines.
For example, before vaccinations, there were 20,000 cases of paralytic polio each year in the U.S., 450 measles deaths (and countless serious complications) yearly, 12,000 cases of Hib meningitis each year, and 9000 deaths a year of pertussis. If the Internet was available then, parents would never let their children out of the house!
Unfortunately, anti-vaccine groups persist in spreading fear and fabrication. Vaccines are safe and effective. No legitimate scientific study has shown any serious side effects. The autism scare has been shown to have been a hoax. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has dismissed all cases associating thimerosol (an additive, now removed) from having caused side effects.
So why do some parents (a small, but vocal, minority) resist vaccinating their children? Some take advantage of herd immunity--if enough are vaccinated, the disease won’t surface. These are selfish people. Presently we are close to the levels where herd immunity may not protect everyone.
Others are simply scared because of what they read on the Internet and other places. There are legitimate sites to learn the real facts, including the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics. Also, two good books include The Panic Virus, by Seth Mnookin, and Deadly Choices:How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, by Paul Offit.
Finally, there are those who simply refuse to do what others recommend. It’s fine to have freedom of choice, but your children shouldn’t have to suffer for it.
Parents who do not immunize often fail to realize the limitations they put on their children. They cannot attend private schools. (Parents should ask their daycare or preschool if there are any unimmunized children, and demand that they be dismissed). They cannot be employed in the healthcare field, or join the military. They cannot travel to many other countries.
Finally, some parents choose to do an alternative schedule. Although acceptable, there is no logical reason to do so. Our immune systems can easily handle any number of vaccines given at once.
The message is clear: be wise, immunize.