Vaccinations against childhood diseases tend to be just another part of the back-to-school routine.
But for some parents, they are anything but routine.
“There are still a fair percentage of people out there fearful and concerned about vaccine safety,” said Dr. Lawrence Garter, a physician with Pediatric Associates in Plantation.
Vaccines are made up of antigens, inert particles of bacteria or weakened viruses that teach your body’s immune system how to produce antibodies to fight a particular infection. Today there are vaccines that help foil polio, measles, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), pneumonia, chickenpox, hepatitis A and B, rotavirus, rubella and tetanus.
“Vaccines are the greatest discovery of the 20th century,’’ Garter said.
Before vaccines, the United States had as many as 200,000 cases of diphtheria and pertussis as well as hundreds of cases of tetanus each year. Since then, tetanus and diphtheria cases have dropped by about 99 percent and pertussis by about 92 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Today we don’t often see these illnesses, but they are definitely still out there,” said Garter, who is affiliated with Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.
In fact, an outbreak of measles now occurring in Wales is a cautionary tale for parents. In 1998, Dr. Adam Wakefield, a London researcher, published a paper in a scientific journal, The Lancet, that linked gastrointestinal problems and even autism to the measles vaccine (MMR).
After further study, the scientific community virtually disowned Wakefield. In 2004, after further research, the U.S. Institutes of Medicine found no evidence linking the vaccine to autism. And by 2010, The Lancet retracted the paper.
But many parents, fearing for their children’s safety, refused the measles vaccine for their children. And today, as a consequence of those children growing up without having been vaccinated, Wales is suffering a measles outbreak.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the disease infected more than 1,200 people in southwest Wales between November 2012 and early July, compared with 105 cases in all of Wales in 2011.
“It’s very sad, because it’s a disease that is severe. It’s a disease that you can be protected against. And you can be killed by it or you can kill another person by giving him the disease,” said Dr. Marcelo Laufer of Miami Children’s Hospital’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
But many parents remain concerned about a connection between autism and vaccine. That may be because most cases of autism are diagnosed in children between 1 and 2 years old. That’s when children also receive a good number of vaccines.
“But association doesn’t prove causation,” Garter said.
Instead, parents should be concerned about leaving their children unprotected against many diseases that can lead to cancer, pneumonia, death, brain damage, paralysis, meningitis, seizures, deafness and more, physicians say.
“Once you’ve seen someone suffering from whooping cough, measles or any other of these diseases, you’ll want to do all you can to protect your child,” said Laufer, who had both his daughters vaccinated as well as himself.