I write today as a polio survivor. In late 1953, eight children out of twenty-four in our first grade classroom contracted polio. My twin brother died sixty-one hours after admission. Two of my friends died several years later of complications. On the night my twin was buried, I was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of paralytic polio. Later on that week, my mother suffered a miscarriage. Fortunately, I eventually recovered… What our family experienced was not unusual. Families all over the world suffered similar tragedies before the polio vaccine.
Because of the success of vaccines, many young parents have never seen the diseases that once plagued children and haunted every parent on the globe. For that reason, parents are more vulnerable to the hype that permeates today’s media.
Although the wild-poliovirus has been eradicated from our country, it has not been eradicated worldwide. Because of globalization, therefore, public health officials call polio a disease that is “just a plane trip away.”
Jan Nichols, New York
Many of us have never been touched by diseases like polio, diphtheria, and measles. But regardless of your stance on the vaccination issue, there is no denying that the reduction of these diseases is due by and large to the widespread use of vaccines. But there’s no guarantee that these disease won’t become prominent again. In some parts of the world, including Asia and Africa, polio still maims and kills thousands of people each year. Take a look at this info on vaccination as you weigh your decision to vaccinate your own children.
How do vaccines work?
When you get sick, your body creates white blood cells that target the infection and destroy it. This system is very effective for common illnesses like colds and the flu. But other diseases are more difficult for the immune system to tackle at full strength.
The purpose of a vaccine is to stimulate the immune system with a weakened form of the disease so that it can build up its supply of white blood cells more successfully. Vaccines are made by using killed germs, parts of germs, naturally occurring less severe forms of the germs, or live germs modified to be less dangerous. When a vaccine is given to a healthy body, it can stimulate the immune process with a much lower risk of injury to the body.
- In 1962, the year before measles vaccine was introduced, almost 500,000 cases of measles were reported in the U.S. Ten years later, there were about 32,000 cases, and by 1982 there were fewer than 2,000. In 1998 and 1999, only about 100 measles cases were reported each year.
- Worldwide, measles killed about 345,000 people in 2005….311,000 of these deaths were children under the age of five.
- In the 1920s, there were 100,000-200,000 cases of diphtheria each year with 13,000-15,000 deaths. Since the introduction of the vaccine for diphtheria the disease has dramatically declined from a high of 206,939 reported cases in 1921 to 1 case in 2002.
- Hib meningitis killed 600 children each year, and caused seizures among many survivors as well as permanent deafness, and mental retardation. Since the vaccine’s introduction in 1987, the incidence of Hib has declined by 98% in the United States.
- Chicken pox (or varicella) is often thought of as a “rite of passage” for kids. But it has also been the cause of 11,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths in the U.S. alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report a decline in the prevalence of the disease since a vaccine was introduced in 1995.
Here are just a few excerpts from the hundreds of comments I received on why parents choose to vaccinate:
Small, but significant chance my kid could die or be permanently debilitated by a horrible disease? Or unbelievably tiny chance that vaccines might, in some way we don’t understand at all, increase the risk of autism? No choice, to me — unless someone comes up with some solid evidence that changes things, every kid will get vaccinated, against everything they have a vaccine for, as soon as my pediatrician tells me it’s time.
Darren P. Meyer
St. Paul, MN
I just never want my children to contract a disease like polio and have the deformities, pain and difficulty breathing that my children’s Granny B had.
Mill Valley, CA
My wife and I have a 16 year old son, Nicholas, who has been variously diagnosed as mildly autistic, Aspberger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder/Not otherwise specified, EIEIO. We have read the books about vaccines and ASD’s, but we are skeptical about the relationship.
Simply stated, there is not enough scientific proof that any one thing causes Autism or Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
El Cajon, CA
Are vaccines worth the risk?
A-ha. That is the billion dollar question. There is no denying that vaccines work to reduce the incidence of disease. But are they worth the risk? Stop back tomorrow when I’ll post about the risks associated with vaccines.