Unfounded Vaccine Fears Put Everyone at Risk

Parents who fail to get their children immunized because of false information put many at risk.

Most people view vaccines as a life-saving scientific breakthrough. But others mistakenly fear them like the plague itself.

You don't have to go much farther than the Internet to find sites, organizations and movie stars - an anti-vaccine movement - devoted to warning the public about alleged dangers of vaccines.

No autism-vaccine link
At the movement's core is the fear that toxins in childhood immunizations are the cause of autism and possibly other diseases. This group claims that the rise of autism is due to the number of vaccines children get at a young age. While it is true that autism is typically noted around the time many childhood immunizations are given, decades of scientific research have not found a link between vaccines and autism.

That's not to say that all vaccines are 100 percent safe. There are risks with vaccinations, although the most common risks, a sore arm or mild fever, are temporary. More serious reactions are extremely rare. Many people think they are avoiding risk by choosing against vaccination. Sadly, this is not true.

Failing to immunize not only puts your child at risk of getting a deadly disease but also of spreading that disease to the rest of your family and others. Polio, measles, diphtheria, chickenpox and other dangerous diseases have been kept in check with vaccines, but not completely wiped out. Many younger parents, those who were not old enough to witness first-hand the devastating effects of these diseases, may not fully appreciate their terrible force.

Deadly diseases waiting for comeback
As more people opt out of immunization, the chance of these killers staging a comeback increases. This is a frightening outlook. In fact, pertussis, or whooping cough, a disease that was all but eliminated, (1,000 cases in 1976) has been slowly coming back (26,000 in 2004). Whooping cough causes high fever and can be fatal in babies.

Measles is also well-positioned for a comeback. The number of reported cases (while still relatively rare) has risen steadily from year to year. With measles, one cough can spread the disease to virtually any susceptible person in the room. Because the disease is so highly contagious, people who are vaccinated serve as a barrier to a widespread outbreak. But rising numbers of unvaccinated people provide a reservoir of potential disease. In other words, vaccines work only if a critical percentage of the population takes them.

Most parents are just trying to make the right decision for their children. When they look to the Internet, they can find a wealth of inaccurate information. The information plays to their fears and takes advantage of a lack of understanding about the complex topic of vaccines.

Protecting your family and the community
Many believe that the vaccine decision is one that will only affect their own family. But they do not think that skipping these shots could cause suffering and even death to others. Most parents are unaware their sick child could pass the disease on to a vulnerable population. For example, babies who are too young to be vaccinated may not have any protection against these diseases. Likewise, people with certain diseases like leukemia and AIDS cannot safely get some vaccinations. And in a small number of cases, vaccinations do not "take," leaving you open to catching the disease.

In the end, the decision to have children vaccinated remains with parents. If you are worried about vaccines, talk to your family doctor and find credible information to help in your decision.