Vaccines Safe and Save Lives—Still, Many Parents Decline
Vaccinations prevent suffering and save lives; they’re safe and in most cases covered fully by insurance. Still, as we commemorate National Immunization Awareness Month in August, some families continue to reject or postpone vaccinations, often due to misinformation and mistrust.
“We’re seeing at least one family a week that’s either refusing vaccinations or choosing to space them out instead of following the recommended schedule,” said Mayssa Abuali, MD, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Specialist at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. That’s an increase from one family every couple of months in previous years.
“It’s been ongoing for several years but we continue to see more and more. The families typically base their decisions on misinformation from the internet, fear of the ‘government’ and fear due to previous experiences—other children with autism, for instance.”
The 1990s research alleging a link between vaccine and autism continues to dissuade families, despite the fact that the research has been debunked in its entirety, the fraudulent publication has been withdrawn, and the episode labeled “one of the most serious frauds in medical history.” Some of the misinformation is provided by “websites that propagate pseudoscience or flat-out lies and myths,” Dr. Abuali said.
The consequences are real. Last year, Dr. Abuali treated an infant who was ill with pneumococcal meningitis and could have died without treatment; the baby had missed several doses of a vaccine that prevents the disease. “Meningitis is an infection of spinal fluid and it can kill you. Before vaccines, they used to see a lot of deaths from meningitis and pneumonia.” The child ultimately recovered and was subsequently vaccinated.
Schoolchildren in all 50 states are required to be vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; polio, measles, rubella and chickenpox. Almost all states permit religious exemptions and Pennsylvania is one of 18 states that permits philosophical exemptions for personal, moral or other reasons.
Some families worry about vaccine ingredients—the slight trace of aluminum in the Hepatitis B vaccine, for instance. Parents are often relieved to learn that the amount of aluminum used in the vaccine to improve effectiveness is less than that found in infant formula. The hardest to convince are families who believe that if a child is sick, it’s “God’s will.”
“The important gap in knowledge here is that these diseases such as measles and chickenpox can have serious consequences such as brain and kidney damage and can kill,” Dr. Abuali said.
The fact is that vaccines protect babies from 14 diseases by the time they reach 2 years of age. They are available for free to uninsured and underinsured families from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“We spend a lot of time with the families over several visits addressing their doubts, concerns, and questions,” Dr. Abuali said. “We refer them to evidence-based websites, the Centers for Disease Control or the Vaccine Education Center (at Children’s Hospital). We’ve changed a lot of minds.”
There are websites that spell out the program of vaccinations that are available for children, starting at birth. Here is a list of necessary shots culled from those websites:
Hepatitis B, second dose
Diptheria, tetanus & acellular pertussis (DTaP)
Haemophilus Influenzae, type b
DTaP, second dose
Hepatitis B, third dose
Rotavirus, second dose
Haemophilus influenzai, type b, second dose
Pneumococcal conjugate, second dose
Polio, second dose
DTaP, third dose
Haemophilus Influenzae, type b, third dose
Hep B, fourth dose (between 6 and 18 months)
Pneumococcal conjugate, third dose
Polio, third dose (between 6—18 months)
Rotavirus, if needed
Haemophilus Influenzae, type b, fourth dose
Measles, Mumps, Rubella (12—15 months)
Pneumococcal conjugate (12—15 months)
DTaP, fourth dose
Hepatitis A (18 months—2 years), second dose
Chickenpox, second dose
DTaP, fifth dose
Measles, Mumps, Rubella, second dose