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July 26, 2012

Vaccinations Risks and Rewards

Amanda Haddaway

There’s growing controversy over whether to vaccinate children against various diseases and illnesses. However, the choice should be a simple yes to protect the health of the child and those around the child.


I recently went for my annual check-up at the doctor’s office and was asked if I would be interested in getting vaccinated against whooping cough, or more technically pertussis. Since I hate being sick, it seemed logical to go ahead and get the vaccination despite my absolute hatred of anything that involves needles.


In making my decision, I spoke with my doctor about why this was being offered now. She said that over the past few years, there’s been a dramatic increase in this bacterial disease.


According to Fox News, “health officials say the nation is on track to have the worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades. Nearly 18,000 cases have been reported so far – more than twice the number seen at this point last year. At this pace, the number of whooping cough cases will surpass every year since 1959.”


If this doesn’t alarm you, it should. The disease is highly contagious and can be fatal in rare cases.


So, what’s the cause for the increase? Parents are deciding not to vaccinate their children against this and other diseases for fear of allergic reactions or more serious conditions like autism.


While there’s speculation that there may be a link between some children, autism and vaccines, it has yet to be medically proven. The controversy started in 1998 with a small study based on reports from parents of 12 children with autism.


In the study, a physician in England claimed to have evidence showing a relationship between autism and a combination of childhood vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella. That claim has since been widely refuted, and the theory has been proven untrue repeatedly. A sample pool of 12 hardly constitutes a major medical finding.


Prior to the pertussis vaccination, hundreds of thousands of children and adults contracted the disease. After the vaccine was introduced in the 1940s, there was a marked decrease in the numbers impacted. In fact, starting in the late 1960s, less than 5,000 cases were reported each year in the United States until the numbers started rising again in the late 90s.


The proof is in the numbers. Vaccines work. Are there risks? Sure, but there are also risks that come with playing in the yard, riding a bike and crossing the street. The benefits to personal and public health clearly outweigh those minute risks.


People who aren’t vaccinated run a much higher risk of contracting and spreading potentially life-threatening diseases. Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases happen each year and could totally be avoided if we all understood the importance of getting immunized.


Until there is conclusive medical evidence that the risks trump the rewards, I’ll make sure my vaccinations are all up-to-date.


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