Not all diseases have disappeared
It has been a widely discussed topic in recent years with awareness, education and importance at the forefront of the immunization conversation. Vaccinating children remains to be an important milestone in the health and well-being during the early years of a child’s life. Their purpose and function continue to be clear to many healthcare professionals.
“Children should be vaccinated in order to prevent them from catching a deadly disease,” said Dr. Terry Kendrick with CHRISTUS Pediatric Associates. “Some of the vaccines available can protect children from Hepatitis A & B, HPV, chicken pox, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, pneumonia, polio, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.”
While the importance of vaccinating aims in preventing many what-if situations, the dangers of those possibilities have a long history which signify their need.
“Several hundred years ago an observation was made that when smallpox came into an area, many people died, but some infected people survived,” Kendrick said. “And those that did survive had immunity the next time the disease presented. This observation led to inoculating native populations with a variant of smallpox which was able to confer immunity without giving them full-blown disease. All our subsequent vaccines come from this premise: If you can stimulate the immune system to ‘recognize’ the offending pathogen, the body's immune response can destroy the potential threat when encountered.”
“This is smart researchers successfully figuring out amazing strategies to solve what once were devastating, ubiquitous threats to children,” Kendrick continued. “Why is this now controversial? Probably because the threat is no longer ‘real’ to most Americans. The battle has been largely won.”
Kendrick said he oftentimes has parents who present with questions and concerns regarding the immunization of their children, to which he answers with his experience becoming a pediatric physician.
“I encounter more and more frequently parents who are skeptical about letting their children be immunized,” he said. “They have heard that ‘we give too many shots to babies,’ ‘it's more natural for them to develop immunity the old fashioned way,’ or ‘at the very least, we should postpone immunizations until the child is older.’” “When I was a pediatric resident in the 1980s, we saw, probably once a week, a child or infant with overwhelming infection caused by a bacteria; haemophilus influenzae, Type 8 or HIB,” Kendrick continued. “This was manifested as sepsis, meningitis, buccal cellulitis, periorbital cellulitis, epiglottitis. The mortality was significant. The morbidity was 50 percent – meaning half of these children incurred terrible consequences – deafness, seizures, cognitive impairment, encephalopathies. A vaccine was developed while I was still in residency. Initially, it was given to 24-month- olds without much impact on the incidence of the disease. Over time, it was retested on 18-month-olds, 12-month-olds. Finally, when it was tested to be safe and efficacious at 2 months of life, we started giving it to that age. And the disease disappeared! I have not seen H. flu meningitis in 30 years.”
There has been considerable controversy with immunizations in recent years, but many of the opposing arguments have either been proven false or recanted. Kendrick said the threats of not immunizing are still very much real.
“[Some myths and misunderstandings are] that they can cause a neurodevelopmental disorder or that the diseases have disappeared and there is no longer a need for the immunizations. But the truth is, these diseases have not disappeared. They still kill children regularly in third world countries, and the germs have not been eradicated in this country. We don't see many of these vaccinepreventable infections here because of something called ‘herd immunity.’” “Because the majority of parents responsibly vaccinate their children, there is not much of the infection ‘going around’ to infect non-immunized children or those for whom sometimes the vaccine doesn't ‘take’ or for children who are immunosuppressed,” he continued. “But if a significant number of parents don't immunize their children it will be a matter of time before disease in the community resurfaces.”