When Salk invented the polio vaccine parents lined up to get their children vaccinated. The prevention of a crippling and sometimes deadly disease was, to a generation who saw this illness all to often, a miracle. Fast forward to today and the number of parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their children is growing, alarmingly.
For many parents in the U.S., the hesitation to give their children routine vaccinations stems from erroneous research linking vaccinations to autism. I don't think anyone could have foreseen the damage that Andrew Wakefield caused with the publication of his study linking vaccines to autism. A decade later no one has ever been able to duplicate the results of this study. It was a small study consisting of only 14 children, riddled with errors and conflicts of interest. The Lancet, the journal that originally published the study has since retracted it and Mr. Wakefield, being found to act unethically during this study, has been stripped of his medical license. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done and what America has been left with is a public image of vaccines that has suffered immensely.
An analysis by The Associated Press showed that as many as 5% of school children in some states had not been vaccinated. No one is really sure what this information means, how many children have to pass on their shots before outbreaks occur? While health officials don't have an answer to that question, there have been recent outbreaks of vaccine preventable illnesses. In the last decade in the U.S. there have been outbreaks of measles, mumps, and whooping cough. All three of these illnesses have vaccines which children are required to have prior to entering kindergarten.
Even more worrisome is that the opinion on vaccines is very geographical. When one parent has a negative opinion of routine shots other parents in that area are also more likely to skip vaccinations. This means that while the overall percentage of children skipping shots might be low there may be certain areas in the country where the unvaccinated population exceeds 20 percent. These are prime areas for outbreaks to occur.
Health officials have been meeting to discuss campaigns promoting vaccination of all children, and some studies have shown that pediatricians play a big role in the decision of parents to vaccinate. If you have questions about your child's shots please contact your doctor. At the very least parents should educate themselves before deciding to pass on required childhood immunizations.
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