VOICES: Vaccinating children is one of the most important ways to keep them safe

Thanks to vaccines, polio is a disease we almost forgot about. Polio is a life-threatening and disabling disease caused by poliovirus. The virus can cause lifelong paralysis when it infects the spinal cord and can be deadly when it infects the muscles needed for breathing. In the early to mid-20th century, yearly summertime polio epidemics occurred. Children struggled to walk or breath and President Roosevelt, himself a polio survivor, started a foundation to develop a polio vaccine. More than two-thirds of Americans contributed money for vaccine research through the March of Dimes campaign. Today, most people in the United States are protected from polio, thanks to a successful vaccination program begun in 1955. There have been no cases of wild polio reported in the United States since 1979. Likewise, measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. If diseases like polio and measles seem uncommon, it is because vaccines are doing their job.

Immunization is the most important way to keep people safe from vaccine preventable diseases like polio. Unfortunately, the rates of routine childhood vaccinations have been declining in the United States. Since measles and polio occur naturally in other parts of the world, unvaccinated Americans are still at risk of infection and severe disease. In July of this year, a person in New York contracted paralytic polio from a traveler. Even closer to home, an outbreak of measles is occurring now in a childcare facility in Columbus, Ohio among children who are not vaccinated and have not been traveling. Measles is very contagious and spreads to about 9 out of 10 unvaccinated children who are exposed, even before children have symptoms. One in five children with measles will need to be hospitalized. If Americans don’t get available, recommended vaccinations, diseases like polio, measles, and whooping cough will once again become more common, putting children at risk of serious complications from diseases that can be prevented by available vaccines.

With the rapid development and pollicization of COVID-19 vaccines, parents became more concerned about vaccine safety and effectiveness. Vaccine hesitancy about COVID-19 vaccines spilled over and caused more vaccine hesitancy about routine childhood vaccines. Unfortunately, large amounts of complex, conflicting, and sometimes dubious information about vaccines can be found online. Misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines spread widely on social media, adding to uncertainty about the best way to make safe vaccination decisions for family members.

There is no doubt in my mind that vaccinating children is one of the most important ways to keep them safe and healthy. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that most childhood vaccines are 90-99% effective in preventing disease. According to the CDC, approximately 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths will be avoided among children born over a 20-year period (1994-2013) because of childhood vaccinations. Millions of children safely receive vaccines each year. When researching vaccines, consulting reputable sources of information on the internet (see suggestions below) can help parents make informed decisions, supported by scientific research.

All parents want their children to be healthy and to get the best care possible. Parents can and should advocate for their children by becoming knowledgeable about vaccinations, setting their children up for a healthy life free from preventable diseases. Discussing specific vaccine-related concerns with your child’s medical provider can help to sort social media fact from fiction so that you can make evidence informed decisions for your child. Be your child’s health champion. Routine childhood immunizations, as well as flu and COVID-19 vaccines are available at Public Health- Dayton & Montgomery County’s vaccination clinic where experienced vaccination nurses are ready to help families catch children up on lifesaving vaccinations.

Dr. Becky Thomas is the Medical Director at Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County.

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