By Patrick Knowles, M.D.
Does your child really need to be vaccinated against diseases? The simple answer is only if you want to keep him/her—and your community—healthy. Here are five specific reasons to vaccinate your child:
• Vaccines save lives: Seventy years ago, polio paralyzed or killed thousands upon thousands. Today, there are no reports of polio in this country. That’s primarily due to safe and effective vaccines, not only for polio but also for such dangerous diseases as diphtheria, meningitis, measles, hepatitis, etc.
• Vaccines are safe and effective: Scientists have worked long and hard to ensure that vaccines are safe. Although fever can occur, along with redness and tenderness around the injection site, severe allergic reactions are rare. The benefits of being immunized to prevent disease are much greater than the possible side effects for almost all children.
• Herd immunity: Your decision to vaccinate your child affects not only the health of your offspring, but also your community. Children under 5 are especially susceptible to disease because their immune systems have not built up the necessary defenses to fight infection. By immunizing by age 2, you can protect your child from disease and also protect others at day care.
Recent measles and whooping cough outbreaks in the United States reflect declining immunization rates. Fewer protected children in the population allow diseases to spread to the broader community.
• Time and money savings: Some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in disabilities, lost time at work, medical bills or long-term disability care. But the cost to be vaccinated is usually covered by insurance or immunization programs also are available.
• Protection of future generations: Vaccines have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated many diseases that killed or severely disabled people a few generations ago. For example, smallpox vaccination eradicated smallpox worldwide; kids no longer need that vaccination.
By vaccinating children against rubella (German measles), the risk of pregnant women passing this virus on to their fetus or newborn has decreased dramatically. Birth defects associated with that virus are no longer are seen in this country. If we continue vaccinating now, and vaccinating completely, some diseases of today will no longer be around to harm children in the future.