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Weighing the Risks and Benefits

If you’ve ever hesitated to have your child vaccinated, you need to keep in mind the risks of not getting these vaccines. The immunization of US children is so widespread and successful that the serious diseases that once caused severe illnesses and lasting disabilities have, in some cases, disappeared. That has left some parents asking, “If the disease is wiped out, why should I immunize my child against it?”

Here’s What You Need to Keep in Mind:

If the rates of immunizations decline even a little, it can cause a comeback of the infectious diseases that have nearly been wiped out in the United States. Remember, even though many vaccine-preventable illnesses now occur in extremely low numbers, the germs that cause them are still around us, particularly in other parts of the world that are as close as a jet plane ride away.

Because of the success of immunizations, most parents have never seen a child with whooping cough, tetanus, polio, or meningitis, so they aren’t aware of how serious these diseases can be. They probably don’t know of anyone who has died from these diseases. As a result, they may not feel it is as necessary to get their kids vaccinated as their own parents might. But not vaccinating one’s children can be very dangerous. For example, some parents have expressed concern about the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and a possible link to autism. Extensive reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conclude that there is no evidence that MMR vaccine causes autism. Autism is a chronic developmental disorder, often first identified in toddlers from age 18 months to 30 months. MMR is administered just before the peak age of onset of autism. This timing leads some parents to mistakenly assume a causal relationship. Further, increasing evidence indicates that autism is determined while the baby is still in the womb, early in the pregnancy. Finally, fears of a possible link between MMR and autism have led to under vaccinated areas within the United States. This fear of vaccination, in turn, has led to outbreaks of measles. While measles has practically been eliminated in the US since 2000, there are 20 million cases per year worldwide, and there was an increase in cases in the US in 2013.

Meanwhile, from time to time, adjustments are made in the immunization recommendations by public health agencies and the AAP to increase effectiveness and safety. For instance, in the past, the oral polio vaccine (OPV) was associated with a very rare complication in which a few children actually developed polio after being immunized. (How rarely did this happen? In about one of every million children receiving the live oral doses). In recent years, experts in the United States have changed the recommendation to ensure a high level of safety, despite increased costs. Only the use of the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which carries absolutely no risk of causing polio itself, is advised. Other countries continue to use OPV. The evidence could not be clearer—your child is at much greater risk from the infectious diseases themselves than from the vaccines.

Some parents choose not to immunize because they don’t want to take any risks. But choosing not to immunize your child is not without risk. Your child can contract the illness and suffer problems. Your child can transmit the disease to others, including those who may be particularly vulnerable, like young infants or relatives with immune problems (many cancer patients, for example, can’t be immunized). And your child will need to stay out of child care or school during disease outbreaks, even if she doesn’t have the disease.

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Adapted from A Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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