Soundbites Drown Out Sound Advice on Child Vaccinations

October 28th, 2011

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The United States is one of the most developed and technologically advanced countries in the world. Yet here we are in the 21st Century suffering from the worst measles outbreak in decades. The tragedy is that measles is a preventable disease. There is a vaccine available today! The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates nearly 1 million people and $1.5 billion in treatments could be saved every year, if we are able to eradicate measles through immunizing our children. Every child in the U.S. should receive their first measles vaccine by 12-15 months of age, which is part of the CDC recommended infant immunization schedule. What is more is that measles is not the only preventable infectious disease killing our children today. Last year, a serious whooping cough epidemic occurred in California. Ten children died. Also in 2010, a mumps outbreak occurred in the Northeast. While smallpox has been eradicated and a push to eradicate polio is underway, measles, mumps, and whooping cough remain threats to the health of our children even though vaccines for these diseases exist. Much of the blame falls on parents who may be awestruck by the star power of unqualified celebrities and politicians who spread misinformation and discourage vaccinations for a variety of reasons. At the same time, blame must also be given to public health officials whose message about recommending vaccinations is not strong enough.

Instead of relying on facts that are based on scientific research, parents who pay too much attention to celebrities and politicians who are not experts on vaccines endanger the lives of their children. A good example is the recent remarks made during the GOP presidential nomination debate regarding the HPV vaccine. Michele Bachmann’s argument that the HPV vaccine can cause ‘mental retardation’erodes the efficacy of public health outreach programs to properly educate and inform citizens. The HPV vaccine is a remarkable success in our fight against cervical cancer, and it will save thousands of lives. Celebrities and politicians seeking attention abuse their celebrity status and become so vocal in their objections to immunizations that expert advice from public health officials is drowned out. Baseless accusations are made that vaccines cause mental illness, make you physically sick, or cause irreparable damage during development. Meanwhile, no one realizes the deadly consequences such comments could have for countless children worldwide.Yes, we have successfully reduced the number of measles cases from 3 million in 1963 to a mere 44 in 2002; however, the refusal of parents to have their children vaccinated (whether because of religious beliefs, unsubstantiated fears of autism, or other supposed vaccine-related developmental issues discussed), will allow infectious diseases that have not been eradicated to return. A child who is not vaccinated against measles is 35 times more likely to catch the disease and not only are these parents endangering the lives of their own children, but the lives of other children because they are allowing preventable infectious diseases into their communities.

Parents need a better grasp of the facts about immunizations and vaccines. Starstruck parents should not choose emotion over reason when it comes to decisions about their child’s immunizations. Unfortunately the government is not providing enough public outreach to effectively inform parents and counteract damage done by celebrity soundbites. The government is in a bind as to how to go about countering this current rise in unvaccinated children. Should the government even go so far as implementing mandatory vaccinations? States already require certain vaccinations for children to be enrolled in schools, but too many exemptions are defeating this effort. Strict enforcement of statewide mandatory vaccination laws might be the only way to go, as it was successfully done during the eradication of smallpox, which was backed by the courts.

Vaccines are safe, regardless of what unqualified persons might be inclined to say. With the increase of epidemics of preventable infectious diseases, we are unnecessarily endangering our children’s lives. We are also setting our nation up for outbreaks that could have severe impacts on our society. Public health officials, doctors and governments across the board must step up their public outreach and education programs to better inform the public and let parents know that through simple measures, their children can have a healthy life. Legislators must take recommendations provided by health officials and find ways to enforce them, while assuring citizens that these measures are safe and protect them from unnecessary harm. There are countless infectious diseases that do not have to continue to be the cause of children dying in the United States.

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