It's Not Cool For Kids to Skip Shots, But Go to School
Nov 29, 2011

After an Associated Press analysis was published yesterday, it didn’t take long for the message to spread like a cold in a daycare.  Although it was information that was spreading, rather than illness, many public health officials acknowledged that it may eventually be new outbreaks of diseases.  What’s particularly disturbing is that it could possibly mean the return of diseases which have been all but eliminated here in the U.S.
Sadly, the report indicated that a rising number of parents, in half the states in the U.S., are now opting out of school shots for their kids.  While the report lacked details regarding how many immunizations were being declined and which ones, the concerning data was that one in twenty public school kindergartners, in as many as eight states, are not getting all the vaccines required for school attendance.
This may come as a shock for many parents, since as many as ninety percent follow the recommended vaccination schedule for their children and adhere to their state’s school immunization requirements.  For many people, the idea of not vaccinating their children has never crossed their mind.  Many parents who vaccinate probably assume that everyone else is vaccinated as well.  But thanks to this recent AP analysis, and last night’s episode of NBC’s Nightly News, parents may begin to understand the concerns tied to this dangerous trend.  After all, it’s time we acknowledge that some parents are making decisions for their children that may have a direct impact on others.
As Brian Williams explains on last night’s episode of NBC’s Nightly News,

“We have vaccines, of course, for a reason.  The alternative can be disease and in some cases epidemics.  That’s why it’s called public health and so the choices of a few can affect a lot of people who have followed the rules.”

Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s News Chief Medical Editor, followed up by addressing some of the growing concerns to our public health.

The coverage began with Lisa Morris, a mother and practicing chiropractor from Buffalo who has refused all vaccines for her three children.  Ms. Morris says she doesn’t agree with “the thought that the more vaccines the better…the more the healthier.”  Although she readily admits, “I really don’t know if that’s true,” she appears quite confident that her decision to forego vaccinations for her children is the best one.
Meanwhile, commentary from experts like Dr. William Shaffner, the president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, supports the fact that parents are often unfamiliar with the diseases we are trying to prevent and can easily be confused and misinformed.  He states that

“there is a moral and ethical responsibility of getting vaccinated, for ourselves, as well as for our children and our grandchildren.”

While I couldn’t agree more, many people just don’t see an unvaccinated child as a threat to a vaccinated child.  Which is why I was pleased to hear Dr. Snyderman conclude her segment with a brief explanation of community immunity – the concept that in a highly immunized population, that there is a threshold that provides protection to everyone – even those who are not vaccinated.   She explains that a growing number of unvaccinated people in a population can negatively impact the threshold and endanger even those who are vaccinated.   She reminds us that as the number of vaccinated people continues to fall,  “than the grandmother who is on chemotherapy, or the aunt who has rheumatoid arthritis” may be in danger and a four year old child could ultimately be responsible for their “death sentence”.  We must also realize that the infants in our community, who are too young to be vaccinated, are often most susceptible to fall victim to vaccine preventable diseases, and plenty of parents have shared their tragic stories with us.
Yet, there will always be parents who don’t vaccinate their children and some who readily admit that they are not concerned about how their decisions impact others.  While they may never be persuaded by calls for moral and ethical responsibility, we must not let this deter us from addressing other parents who are still investigating their immunization questions and concerns.  Hopefully, more medical news correspondents, like Dr. Nancy Snyderman, who call upon people to be compassionate towards others, will help to clarify the dangers of disease and emphasize the importance of immunizations.
But it’s also up to us.  We each need to take up the conversation with our friends and family to ensure that we’re being responsible in taking care of one another, as well as taking care of ourselves.  Recently, there have been some powerful stories featured on the Moms Who Vax blog that illustrate that decisions can change.  Parents who once chose not to vaccinate, can become parents who now strongly advocate for vaccines.  If you are looking for more information, I encourage you to visit the blogs and websites we suggest here on Shot of Prevention.  There are plenty of expert opinions to consider and we would prefer not to hear another parent decide against vaccination while admitting that they “really don’t know” what’s best.

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