A PERSONAL LOOK AT VACCINES

One reason why parents can be reluctant to immunize is that vaccines have been so effective that parents do not have experience with most of the diseases we can protect against. They therefore do not know the devastation the illnesses can cause, leading to a natural tendency to not worry about them.

I have been doing pediatrics for over 40 years now, and have seen most of these diseases, and will offer my perspective here.

Flu is a major cause of death and hospitalization in the US each year. The vaccine is not perfect, but it is useful. I still hospitalize a few children each year in whom this could have been avoided if they were vaccinated.

I used to hospitalize several children each year for vomiting and diarrhea due to rotavirus; I have not had this happen since I started giving the vaccine.

I have seen a parent who had polio as a child and survived, only to develop progressive muscle weakness due to post-polio syndrome as an adult. I have seen a child with autism, due to her mother having German measles (rubella) during the pregnancy.

I have seen children with devastating brain damage following meningitis from HIB and pneumococcal bacteria, both preventable conditions nowadays.

I did part of my medical training in England during a pertussis epidemic. I have seen wards filled with children with pertussis.

I have seen a beautiful child who had measles when younger, and apparently did fine, only to develop a late complication, SSPE, many years later. She developed uncontrollable seizures, and gradually lost the ability to use her muscles.

Chicken pox is felt to be a relatively harmless condition. My daughter caught the disease before the vaccine came out; she subsequently had shingles as a late complication, in her 20’s. Before the vaccine was developed, over 100 children would die from chicken pox in the US each year. I have seen two children, previously healthy, die suddenly from this disease. In one, it went to her brain, causing encephalitis, and she literally seized to death. In the other, the child developed a condition called purpura fulminans, and bled to death within hours.

Over my career, I have seen heart-breaking outcomes from vaccine preventable diseases. I never want to see these again. Please vaccinate your children.

A PEDIATRICIAN LOOKS AT VACCINES

Nowadays, many parents are reluctant to vaccinate their children, having been told, incorrectly, that vaccines are too dangerous.  This is far different from when vaccines were first developed.  When the Salk vaccine for polio first came out in the 1950s, parents would endure long lines for a chance to avoid a disease that crippled or killed hundreds of thousands of children yearly in this country alone.

The first major anti-vaccine thrust came courtesy of a television show, 20/20, over 30 years ago.  Someone noticed that crib deaths (SIDS) and receiving whooping cough (pertussis) vaccines happened at around the same time, and the producers of the show advertised for parents whose children had received the vaccine and then died of SIDS soon thereafter.  They found plenty of them, and went on the air announcing their discovery.  The problem is that what they found was merely a coincidence.  Had they advertised for parents whose babies had the vaccine and then soon thereafter started to eat cereal, or had their first laugh, or even who had missed their whooping cough vaccine, they would have found plenty of those, and been able to ‘prove’ that cereal, or laughing, or missing vaccines, caused SIDS.  As subsequently shown by numerous actual studies, there was no association between the vaccine and SIDS.

Unfortunately, the damage was done.  England in particular took this to heart, and the vaccination rate fell. The outcome was easily predictable.  Pertussis cases rose, a few children died, and that in turn convinced parents to start vaccinating again, and the number of cases dropped once again.

The next big controversy, which still lingers, was with autism and the MMR vaccine.  Autism is often diagnosed around the age when the MMR is given, leading people to assume the two are related.  This is not so.  Numerous studies, in various countries, with various designs, involving tens of thousands of children, have shown that this is a coincidence; the chance of developing autism is the same whether one is vaccinated or not.

This controversy was fueled by an article Andrew Wakefield published in the prestigious journal Lancet in 1998, showing a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.  No scientist has ever been able to replicate his findings, with good reason; the study was fraudulent.  You are probably aware that the article was later retracted by the journal, and disavowed by Wakefield’s co-authors.  You may not be aware of how the article came to be written.  Lawyers in England were looking to sue the manufacturer of the MMR vaccine, but in England, you need scientific proof, not just speculation, to do so.  Therefore, a group of lawyers hired Mr. Wakefield to find some proof, which he subsequently did, in the now discredited article.  For an excellent report on this, go to www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c5347.

After the article, MMR vaccination rates naturally fell, and England had its first death from measles in 14 years.  Mr. Wakefield subsequently lost his license to practice medicine, and moved to the United States, where he has earned a living advocating against vaccines.