Mandatory Vaccinations Undergo a Year Under the Microscope
"I think the most important thing is to remember what vaccines are for: that the vaccine-preventable diseases are frequently quite serious with severe complications," Walter Orenstein, MD, director of the National Immunization Program for the CDC, tells WebMD.
By shining the spotlight just on safety, Orenstein says, "What often gets omitted is the benefit side, and vaccines have been so successful that [today's parents have never seen] many of these diseases. ... Some of them may never have even heard of some of them, but they're not a threat that's gone away. Except for smallpox, there is the potential for any of these disease to be resurrected."
He cites as an example the fact that, about 10 years ago, children weren't being vaccinated early enough for measles. "We had a large population of unvaccinated preschool children that were a fertile ground when there was a massive epidemic of measles," Orenstein tells WebMD. Over a 3-year period, 123 people died.
Thomas N. Saari, MD, a pediatrician who is also a member of the committee on infectious diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics, cites the same example often to patients. He tells WebMD he tries to give his concerned patients as much information and background about the vaccinations as he can, following the rules of informed consent. But he says he also gives his patients a perspective from a time when vaccines weren't so prevalent.
"I try to give them a sense of what the world was like before we had immunizations to prevent the disease," he says. "We do get pretty complacent in this day and age because we don't see the diseases that the vaccines prevent because they do such a good job."
Saari tells his patients about the more recent measles outbreak. "It used to be said that 1 in a 1,000 children could be expected to die from measles, but here [in Wisconsin], it was 6 out of 2,000 [in the outbreak a decade ago], from a disease that was completely preventable."
And Saari also brings up the public health issue, the "community obligation" of parents. He tells WebMD, "we immunize our children as much to prevent our child from catching a disease, as much as preventing our child from giving another child disease."