MD Mama

The Invisible Threat of Vaccine Refusal

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Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in the past four months there have been more cases of measles in the US than they have seen in the first four months of any year since 1996.

Because of the success of vaccines, we had just about eradicated measles here in the US. But it's on the rise again. It's on the rise because it's not eradicated in other countries (many of the recent cases were related to an outbreak in the Philippines) and we live in a global society where people travel easily from one place to another. But it's also on the rise because more people aren't vaccinating their children.

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It's fine, and appropriate, to question a treatment for your child--and I always respect a parent's wishes when it comes to vaccination. But there are two ways that vaccine refusal worries me. First, too many parents believe information that has been proven not to be true--like the soundly refuted claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The doctor that claimed this, and scared millions of people, was discovered to have falsified his research (the journal retracted his paper)--and lost his medical license. And yet people still believe that what he said was true.

Second--and this is really important--vaccine refusal doesn't just affect your child. it's bad enough that your child could catch measles or polio or whooping cough or one of the other vaccine-preventable diseases (these diseases can be contagious before people realize they have them, and you can't always control who you end up next to at the park or grocery store or doctor's office). But if your child catches one of them, they can spread them to other people--like your friend's newborn or the neighbor with cancer or an elderly grandparent, people who for various reasons either can't be immunized or aren't fully protected.

You may think that your child could weather measles or chicken pox just fine, and you might be right--but you don't know, you can't know, that it won't be deadly for someone else.

That's what people really, really need to understand.

There's a great movie made by some amazing high school students about this invisible threat of vaccine refusal. I have the trailer below. Check it out--it's very powerful. It will be aired at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington DC on May 1st at 10 AM. You can visit the chstv website to find places to see it or find out how to get it screened in your community.

Vaccines are carefully researched and tested for safety. They have risks like any other medical treatment does, and everyone should know and understand those risks. But the risks of the vaccines are always less than the risks of the diseases they prevent, and that point cannot be lost in the discussion, especially as we see more cases of diseases like measles.

Please talk to your doctor if you have any questions about vaccines. I am always happy when people bring their questions to me, so that we can work together to make the decision that makes the most sense for their child, family and community.

It's so important to be sure that the information you get about vaccines is really good information. Not all the information out there is good--please look at it critically. Please make sure it's coming from people and organizations that do rigorous, transparent research, research that is reviewed by other scientists for accuracy. This is too important a decision to make any other way.