Guest Post by Vicki M. Porges, MD
As a pediatrician I am committed to being an advocate for children’s health. As Pediatricians we aim to practice “preventive” medicine. We have the benefit of making a difference early on and caring for children right from birth to try and give them the opportunity and advantages to have a long and healthy life. This includes the administration of vaccines.
As a parent I understand the overwhelming amount of information necessary to process when making decisions about what is best for your child. Every parent weighs the risks vs. benefits of their decisions on a daily basis. From the moment our children are born there are choices. Do we breastfeed or give formula? Do we live in the city or move to the suburbs? Do we send them to preschool at 2.5years or wait until 3.5yrs or not at all? Do we send them to private or public school? These questions are not “life-threatening” and do not have one right answer. But the decision not to vaccinate or even to delay vaccinations can be.
When engaging parents in the discussion about why and how they came to the decision not to vaccinate their child, few have actually researched both sides. They have heard stories and they are understandably scared. One of the hurdles is actually not the lack of information but rather the excess of information provided by the internet. Parents feel they have done their research by going online but it can be difficult to determine which information is accurate and therefore may be making potentially life-threatening decisions based on inaccurate information. It is often easier to find the “anecdotal” evidence claiming harmful effects of vaccines rather than the “scientific” evidence that supports the safety and efficacy of vaccines through extensive studies. Even after the original claim that vaccines causes autism was retracted, and the evidence proven to be fraudulent, the damage to public health is lasting. There are countless family members of individuals who have suffered or died from one of these “vaccine preventable” diseases who also have stories to tell but may not be as public about them.
It is not fair to take a parent’s most prized possession, their child, and scare them into making a decision that can potentially harm or kill that child. I once had a parent say to me “I would rather my child get the Measles virus than the Measles vaccine”. It is possible that when she said this she figured this was an unlikely scenario. This risk is now more real than ever. The MMR vaccine has been safely used for over 50 years, contributing to the eradication of Measles in the US in 2000. Due to recent vaccine refusals the Unites States experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 644 cases from 27 states. This is a very real risk and unlike Ebola virus, we have the ability to prevent it.
The problem I see with vaccines is that because they are so effective we see less of the diseases so that people no longer fear the diseases and instead fear the vaccines. People who delay or refuse vaccines, because of an unfounded fear that their child may develop autism, are putting their children as well as others at risk for diseases that are as real as autism but more deadly. As pediatricians, we aim to help parents by providing them with the proper tools to make informed decisions that will benefit their children and give them the opportunity to grow up in a safe and disease limited environment.
Vicki M. Porges, MD