Get to the Point: Childhood Vaccinations Save Lives

Recently parents have been needling me about whether or not their child really needs all those vaccinations we are now giving.  Let me make some important points about this important topic.

Vaccines help prevent infectious diseases and save lives.  Thanks to vaccines, we have been able to eradicate childhood diseases like polio and diphtheria and are well on the way to reducing the amount of meningitis, pneumonia, and whooping cough in this country.  However, the numbers of these diseases have recently begun to rise again, as has happened with whooping cough in Vermont this year.  Why?  While there are certainly a number of reasons, one is certainly that more families are deciding not to immunize their children so let me address concerns such families might have and try to convince them otherwise.

If you are not immunizing your infant because you think they are protected at birth with immunity from mom’s breast milk, be aware that while breast milk has some immune protection, it is not protective against the serious diseases for which we immunize.

If the reason you are worried is because you think they will be painful to your child, your child’s doctor has a variety of techniques and strategies to reduce the discomfort of the injection as much as possible.  Remember, this discomfort is minor compared to what your child will experience if they do get one of these life-threatening illnesses from not getting vaccinated.

If you think it is better to be naturally infected rather than vaccinated, you are wrong.  It is much better to gain immunity from a vaccine than from the diseases they prevent, which can kill.

If you are worried about the safety of vaccines, be aware nothing is 100% effective or safe – but the minor side effects of any vaccines (which have been tested for years before being declared safe) pale in comparison to the reality of getting the diseases that the vaccines are designed to prevent. 

We are certainly seeing outbreaks of those diseases for which we vaccinate – such as pertussis in our community and in other communities around the country – because some of us are refusing to have our children immunized, which in turn reduces the effectiveness of the population protection that vaccines are designed to provide – even in those who have been vaccinated.  We need to take care of each other, and vaccines are a great way to do that.

Hopefully tips like this (and I don’t just mean needle tips) will allow me to take my best shot at this topic and inject just the right attitude so that you understand how critically important it is to make sure your child gets fully immunized. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.