Controversy around the safety of vaccination is nothing new. Even as society has experienced irrefutable success in controlling and eradicating many diseases, and with the now exhaustive scientific data that proves vaccines are safe, many parents are still choosing to opt out of immunization.
Undeniably, vaccination is one of the biggest achievements of 20th century public health. Vaccination protects not only our children but also everyone in our community. Known as herd immunity, the vaccination of a critical portion of the population against infectious disease decreases the probability that an outbreak of that disease will occur.
Why are parents opting out?
As we move further away from a time when parents feared polio, smallpox and other disabling and deadly diseases, the masses have forgotten why public health officials instituted statewide immunization efforts to begin with.
In Michigan, parents can opt out of vaccination for religious, medical and philosophical reasons. Combine those reasons with the aforementioned apathy, misinformation spread across social media and the Internet, celebrity dissent and sensationalistic media coverage, and the result is communities across the nation are experiencing alarming declines in vaccination.
Michigan pushes parents to think twice
Fortunately, Michigan recently tightened its vaccination exemptions. The state now requires parents waiving vaccination to be educated by a health worker about vaccines and the diseases they're intended to prevent. Parents must also sign the universal state form that acknowledges parents understand they are putting their own children and others at risk by refusing immunization.
As someone who has dedicated my education and career to public health and disease prevention, and as a mother who chose to vaccinate my child, I encourage all new parents wavering on childhood immunization to consider these three things:
Vaccination is safe
The Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other credible medical organizations stand behind the safety of vaccination. Studies show ingredients in vaccines are safe in the amounts used and severe adverse reactions are extremely rare. Before a vaccine is ever approved and licensed, it goes through years of testing for safety and effectiveness.
Vaccination saves children's lives
The numbers don't lie. Most childhood vaccines are 90 percent to 99 percent effective in preventing disease. In the United States, there's a decrease in infant mortality from 100 to seven deaths per 1,000 between the 1900s and 2000. In other words, 2.5 million children are saved from vaccine-preventable diseases every year, which equates to roughly 285 children every hour. Additionally, life expectancy has risen by more than three decades thanks to vaccination.
Vaccination saves parents time and money
Childhood sickness is expensive. A child below the age of five with the flu is contagious for approximately eight days, which costs parents an average of 11 to 73 hours in wages. A child with the flu can mean spending upwards of $4,000 in medical treatment. A case of rotavirus or measles costs even more. If your child is stricken with a vaccine-preventable disease, he or she may even require long-term rehabilitation care.
The risk is in waiving immunization
Science proves that when we fail to vaccinate it endangers both the child's health as well as others who would not be exposed to vaccine-preventable illness if the community as a whole were better protected.
Some believe the risk is too great when it comes to vaccinating children. The real risk, however, is in opting out of having a child immunized. When we vaccinate our children, we reduce the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases on our families and on society.