Fear the diseases, not the vaccines
© 2012 Roy Benaroch, MD
About 3 million children’s lives are saved each year by vaccination. In the United States alone, 20 million cases of serious illness are prevented every single year, because of the power of immunizations. That’s why immunizations are among the greatest public health achievements of all time.
With vaccine-preventable illnesses at historic lows, some parents are becoming more fearful of vaccines than of the diseases themselves. That’s a tragedy. Vaccines are the most intensely studied and researched health interventions we have, and there is a tremendous amount of data supporting their safety. Yet, rumors and internet sites have contributed to a mistrust of not only vaccines, but to the doctors who recommend them, the governments who supply them, the scientists who invent them, and the companies that manufacture them. Somehow, the diseases themselves are no longer the bad guy.
Vaccine-refusers expose their children to a 23-fold increased risk of pertussis, a 35-fold increased risk of measles, and a 9-fold increased risk of chicken pox. You get the idea. These vaccines work. They prevent illness, and prevent death.
Refusing vaccines hurts your children and your community. There are always people in a community who are at high risk for disease. This includes the very young and old, and people who for health reasons have poor immunity or who can’t be vaccinated. It also includes some people who were vaccinated, but who didn’t develop good immunity. Though vaccines work very well, they’re not perfect, and some people don’t develop protection from their vaccinations. If almost everyone in a community is vaccinated, it helps protect the most vulnerable among us. And once enough families refuse vaccines, this protective effect will evaporate. Not vaccinating doesn’t only affect your own children. It can affect mine, and your neighbors’, and the people in the nursing home. It affects us all.
Fear of vaccines has led some parents to want to “space them out”—the exact wrong thing to do, if you want to keep your children and your community safe. One idiot doctor even made up an alternative schedule, and he’s sold a lot of books about it. But why would anyone think his made-up schedule is safer than the one recommended by every important health authority in the world? Why is that one guy more trustworthy than your own pediatrician? Think about this: if vaccines were in some way unsafe, why is making more separate visits so your child gets more days with shots better than bunching them up and getting them over with? There is no evidence, and no plausible scientific reason, to think that the stretched out schedule is safer. It just leaves your child more vulnerable, longer. Fear drives the use of this weirdball schedule—a misguided fear of vaccines, instead of a fear of disease. There are different reasons why some parents refuse vaccines, but the common thread is fear.
The media hasn’t always done a great job presenting the science of vaccines, preferring sometimes to stick with sensationalism over useful information. And the internet, by its very nature, tends to exaggerate freaky new stories over context and followup, leaving parents reeling. Parents want to keep their kids safe and healthy. But with “all those stories on the internet”, who can they believe?
I’ll tell you who to believe. Believe the doctors and scientists around the world who’ve dedicated their lives to keeping children safe. Believe the parents, the millions of them, whose children have been saved by vaccines. Believe your own pediatrician, not celebrities and fear-mongerers on the web. Believe the science that continues to study and monitor and improve vaccines. Don’t give in to an irrational, unnecessary, and harmful fears. Protect your kids and mine. Vaccinate.