Prevention: n. the act of keeping from happening, holding back or hindering
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I’m working on an article for a health magazine on vaccinations for children.
If you don’t have little kids you may not be aware that vaccinations have become a focus of parental angst since a (now-debunked) 1998 study of 8 autistic children by Andrew Wakefield in the UK, which claimed that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine could cause autism. Turns out that the doctor was a shill for the kids’ families who were seeking financial settlements. And last week several cases trying to link autism to vaccines were thrown out of court. (Newsweek‘s Sharon Begley just did an excellent feature on the history and current state of the vaccination kerfuffle – Anatomy of a Scare….)
Wakefield’s British medical license was revoked, but the damage was done. Parents with autistic children had found themselves a scapegoat in the vaccine, and parents of healthy infants began to question the whole concept of vaccination.
- There were so many shots: “Why when I was a kid,” they said, “we just had the DPT and polio vaccines….”
- Is this an evil collaboration between Big Government [the CDC] and Big Pharma to get more money from us?
- Had the vaccines been properly tested – separately and in combination? Was it safe to give babies so many shots at one time?
- What are all these diseases anyway? Why should we worry?
To make matters worse, the media picked up the controversy and rumors spread like wildfire on the Internet. Celebrities ignorant of science and the scientific method ranted on TV. Some parents decided to forego vaccinating their kids; some (thanks to a misleading and poorly researched book on vaccinations by the Dr. Robert Sears) decided to formulate alternative vaccination schedules for their babies – delaying some and dropping others.
I interviewed several pediatricians, family practice physicians, and epidemiologists for the article and they all were disturbed by the level of public misunderstanding and the potential repercussions of fewer kids being vaccinated.
“The problem,” said one pediatrician, “is that many of these vaccines have been around long enough and have been so dramatically successful that today’s young parents are unaware of how devastating these diseases can be. In my travels to less developed parts of the world I’ve seen kids struggle for their very lives or die from them.”
Another pediatrician told me that parents always fear for possible health threats to their babies. “Without the actual diseases themselves to fear, they are now focused on vaccine side-effects. Instead they should be worried that many of these childhood diseases are just a plane flight away. Or an unimmunized buddy at daycare away.”
According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center:
Before the vaccines we use today parents in the US could expect every year:
- Polio would paralyze 10,000 children
- Rubella (german measles) would cause birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns.
- Measles would infect about 4 million children, killing 3,000 and causing severe brain damage in many others.
- Diptheria would be one of the most common causes of death in school-aged children
- A bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae typ b (Hib) would cause meningitis in 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage
- Pertussis (whooping cough) would kill thousands of infants.
Additionally, the recent rotavirus vaccine protects the against an intestinal infection that’s still one of the leading killers of the very young around the globe.
The other issue big on young parents’ minds is the timing of vaccinations – so many so close together. But that is how they have been studied, said the docs I spoke to – the current vaccination schedules have proven effectiveness and safety, and alternative schedules have not.
I could go on and on, but this is just a blog post. If you’d like more information check out the CDC website.
Update 4/23/09: Jim Carrey wrote an outrageous post at Huffington Post yesterday – another celebrity rant by someone who doesn’t understand science. I’m not linking to it, but I will link to Skeptic Dad at Science-Based Parenting, who rebuts in detail the Carrey post. Nice job.