Childhood Vaccines. Are they important? Are they safe?

Vaccination has spared millions of people the devastating effects of infectious diseases. Before vaccines became widely used, infectious diseases killed thousands of children and adults every year. In countries where children are not routinely vaccinated, hundreds of children still die every year from these diseases. Unfortunately, vaccines are a victim of their own success. Many young parents have never seen cases of polio, measles or tetanus and, as a result, question the need for vaccines.

Vaccine History

Before polio vaccine was available 21,000 people were paralyzed from polio in this country. In the 1960's, there were 12.5 million cases of rubella. Infants then born to mothers with rubella were born deaf, blind and mentally retarded.

Before the measles vaccine was available, there were more than 3 million cases of measles and 500 deaths from measles every year. Thousands were left with brain damage, seizures and deafness from the measles.

Before 1985, when the Hib vaccine became available, more than 20,000 children every year developed meningitis and pneumonia from Hib disease and nearly 1000 people died. Pneumococcal infection used to cause more than 700 cases of meningitis and more than 13,000 blood infections each year.

Today's Vaccines

Vaccines are very safe and side effects are rare with today's vaccines. Years of testing are done before a vaccine can be licensed and used. The FDA requires extensive testing of a vaccine, a process that can take more than 10 years, to ensure safety. Severe reactions to vaccines occur so rarely that the risk is difficult to calculate.

Do vaccines cause autism? No. One author made this claim in 1998. Since then, several very large and well-controlled studies have shown that there is no relationship between autism and the MMR vaccine. They found there is no difference in the rate of autism between vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

Without protection from vaccines, these devastating diseases will likely return. Families who opt not to immunize their children must be aware of the significant risk. Meningitis and blood infections are still common in the unimmunized. In our mobile society, outbreaks occur easily among the unimmunized, when a contagious traveler from another country infects those that are not immunized.

Article written by Rita Thieme, MD, Castle Rock Pediatrics