Guest Editorial by Chad Rodgers, MD, FAAP, Chief Medical Officer, AFMC
Vaccinations remain the most successful public health accomplishment, saving lives, preventing diseases and avoiding huge costs to our health care system. Research shows that one-on-one contact with an informed, concerned pediatric provider who encourages parents to vaccinate is the most effective way to increase vaccinations. Since the “burden of proof” is on us, let’s look at several evidence-based methods that will help.
Many parents who are uncertain about safety just need more information. Measles has sickened more than 700 children nationwide. Arkansas had a mumps outbreak serious enough to close the DeQueen schools. Arkansas’ had a 470 percent increase in whooping cough cases since 2011. It’s the law that children must be vaccinated before attending any school or daycare.
Vaccines are safe. What is unsafe is not having a child vaccinated. Almost all children can be safely vaccinated. Explain that vaccines work by pushing our immune system to find and kill disease-causing germs. Immunity is the body’s ability to “remember” how to fight illnesses when we encounter them again. Developing a new vaccine includes duplicate safety tests, expert evaluations and updated recommendations when new research becomes available. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says the risk of having a bad reaction to a vaccine is one in a million. The risk of a vaccine-preventable infection ranges from 1 in 100 – 1,000, depending on the disease. In the very rare case of a vaccine reaction, most issues resolve on their own without medical attention. Some parents believe that receiving multiple vaccines can overwhelm a child’s immune system. Explain that the immune system constantly fights thousands of germs every day. The myth that vaccines include toxic substances is also untrue. In 1999, thimerosal was removed from vaccines in response to popular but scientifically unproven fears. The amount of aluminum or formaldehyde naturally occurring in the body is 100 times more than in a vaccine.
Vaccines are effective. Because we all breathe the same air, our immunity depends on the immunity of everyone we encounter. Vaccines also protect those who cannot be vaccinated. The NIH says vaccines will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among U.S. children born in the last 20 years – a cost savings of $1.38 trillion.
Vaccines save lives. Smallpox and polio have been eliminated from the United States because the vaccines were effective and most people were vaccinated. Failing to vaccinate can cause long-term vulnerability to other diseases. A measles infection puts children at greater risk – for up to three years – for other deadly infections. The infection seems to destroy immunity that children gain from other vaccines by wiping out the immune system’s memory cells.
The “antivaxxers” have yet to provide any scientific proof of any harm caused by vaccinations. New research says children who received the MMR vaccine were seven percent less likely to develop autism compared to unvaccinated children. Some anti-vaxxers believe “natural immunity” is better but natural immunity is short-lived for some diseases. It’s possible to get chicken pox more than once after a natural infection. Whooping cough’s natural immunity lasts four to 20 years.
Medicaid and most health insurance policies cover the full cost of vaccines as a preventive service. Vaccines are provided free through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program or at Arkansas Department of Health’s county offices.