Childhood vaccines are used to protect children from a range of serious illnesses such as polio, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, and meningitis. Practically everyone in the medical community unequivocally advocates vaccination for young children, but the issue has become complicated in recent years. For new parents, it is difficult to ignore the recent controversies generated by those who are opposed to vaccinations. A few high-profile celebrities, along with a growing grassroots movement, have made their vaccine refusal a big issue in the media, and this has many new parents wondering what they should do.
The anti-vaccine claims
Anti-vaccine advocates use a number of different arguments. Perhaps the biggest one is the idea that vaccinations cause more problems than they prevent. The argument is that a child’s immune system has trouble reacting to the onslaught of chemicals contained in a typical vaccine, and that this can lead to adverse effects and may cause issues such as autism. Meanwhile, many in the anti-vaccine community also argue that vaccination is part of some sort of conspiracy in the medical industry to force their products upon people.
While these arguments may raise some interesting issues-and every parent does have a right to be skeptical about these things-most in the medical community would agree that these concerns are baseless. With regard to the autism claim in particular, no scientific research has found a link between autism and vaccines. In some cases, autism may develop soon after a child receives his or her vaccines, but this is just a coincidence.
Another argument is that it is safer for children to develop natural immunity rather than receive a vaccination. While this may be true for illnesses such as the flu or the common cold, the diseases kids are vaccinated against are life-threatening and can have disastrous consequences. Before we had vaccinations, these diseases were a large reason for higher rates of childhood death and lower life expectancies. Most of us would rather not go back to those times.
Should you vaccinate?
The anti-vaccination crowd is probably not going to go away any time soon, but the fact is that the media noise surrounding their movement is disproportionate to the actual number of people who believe these things. In reality, the movement has made no solid claims, and there is no reason for anyone to take their arguments seriously.
What many people do not realize is that the past century has seen a revolution in health, and this is largely thanks to vaccination, which has all but eradicated many of the most serious illnesses from the developed world. The anti-vaccination movement comes at a time when we have forgotten what it is like to have to deal with these illnesses. One-hundred years ago, new parents had to worry about their children getting polio, mumps, measles, and numerous other illnesses. And it was not just a remote threat; these diseases were real concerns, and most people had friends, family members, or acquaintances who had been afflicted with them or had lost children, brothers, or sisters to them.
If these illnesses now seem mysterious and remote, it is simply because vaccination has made them that way. So yes, while it is good parenting to question and educate yourself about what your child’s doctor does, not vaccinating a child is simply irresponsible. If you still have doubts, ask your doctor to provide you with more information about why vaccination is a good idea.
By Lisa Pecos