As a pediatrician, much of my day is spent evaluating well children. We check their height and weight and evaluate development. An important part of the well-child visit is determining the child's vaccine status and keeping them up to date with their immunizations.
In recent years, a large part of the well-child visit has involved discussions regarding the safety of vaccines. These conversations can be passionate and often controversial. We want parents to be well-informed and make good decisions for their children.
I would estimate about 90 percent of the parents in our clinic vaccinate their children. About 70 percent of the people who choose not to vaccinate do so because of their own desires or fears. An estimated 30 percent of the children who do not receive vaccinations are unable to be immunized due to medical reasons.
I'm sure that everyone has heard many of the concerns regarding vaccines. There are many arguments that I could propose in favor of vaccinations. I am offering a different perspective on why I believe parents should opt to vaccinate their children. One of the main reasons I believe vaccines are important is because of the responsibility we all have for general public health.
People who have compromised immune systems are at real risk for contracting a life-threatening disease. There are many people in our community whose immune systems are not functioning well. We, of course, think quickly of the cancer patient, but we must also consider those with other illnesses that are not quite so obvious. We need to think of people with illnesses who require medication that suppress their immune system. People who often do not appear very sick but require protection from disease. Some examples are diabetes, arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease and the list goes on and on. Another large population of immunocompromised people are the elderly. It is not unusual for an illness, such as influenza or pertussis (both have been present in our community), to sweep through a nursing home and take the lives of those people whose aging immune system no longer offers them protection. Another at risk population of immunocompromised are young infants with immature immune systems. Especially vulnerable are the premature infants. Here in Columbus, we have many “medical miracles” who were born very early. After a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and surviving prematurity, the last thing these fragile infants deserve is a preventable disease.
When we increase our vaccination rates, we hinder the ability of the illness to spread through our community. Increased vaccination rates result in what is called “community immunity” or “herd Immunity." According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), when a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against this disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Because if the “herd” is strong, the weak are protected.
When we hear of a person in our family or community who has been stricken with severe illness or cancer, one of our first responses is to want to help. We feel helpless and wish we could just "do something." One of the things that we can do to improve the lives of those suffering is to vaccinate our children.