Q. Are vaccines really necessary?
Yes. As a doctor, I am greatly worried when parents decide to delay or not to vaccinate their child. That's because vaccine-preventable diseases are real. I have watched a child die from a vaccine-preventable disease while I helplessly stood by. I've cared for several babies gasping for breath with whooping cough. These diseases kill children. Respect them. Last year alone vaccines prevented 14 million infections and 33,000 deaths in the US.
Our grandparents remember diseases like polio. And how folks lined up to get vaccinated. Yet, you've probably never even heard of anyone with polio today. The great irony of vaccine success is that parents today are unfamiliar with the diseases they prevent.
In the past 10 years, I have seen two forms of bacterial meningitis basically disappear, thanks to vaccines. Before the HIB (Haemophilus Influenzae B) vaccine was developed, there were about 20,000 U.S. children a year who suffered or died from this infection. Now there are less than 200 cases per year. Before Prevnar vaccine, which protects against Strep meningitis, 17,000 American children per year had invasive infections with Strep. And about 200 kids died of this each year. Since vaccination, serious infections have been reduced by 90 percent. That's pretty amazing.
And no, you can't just let everyone else vaccinate their kids--and let them protect your un-vaccinated child. Just look at the recent measles outbreak in 2008 in San Diego. It all started with a child, who was unvaccinated by parent choice. He returned from a trip to Switzerland with measles. He went on to infect 10 other unvaccinated children--his siblings, school friends, and three babies who were too young to be vaccinated who were exposed to that child in a doctor's waiting room. Of the 11 cases, one baby was hospitalized.
And this outbreak may be a trend--this year has seen the highest rate of measles cases in the U.S. since 2001. Thus far, 64 cases have been reported in nine states. 63 of the 64 patients were not vaccinated, 13 of which were babies who were too young to be vaccinated. Babies, who are the most vulnerable to serious infection, do rely on other vaccinated children in the community to protect them when they are not old enough to be immunized.
So, when people argue that kids get too many shots today, I ask them if they'd rather their child get meningitis. And what about vaccines in the pipeline? If we've already got too many shots, would you decide to skip a future vaccine to prevent HIV? Probably not. That's because you know that vaccine might be the one that saves your child's life.