Vaccines: The Reality Behind the Debate

A Safer World

At the heart of the vaccine debate is the idea that when you immunize your children you don't just protect them -- you help shield your entire community. Since some kids can't get certain vaccines because they are allergic to ingredients like eggs, or because they have immune-system deficiencies that prevent vaccines from working (such as those with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy), many people feel that it's up to healthy children to keep vaccination rates at a level that protects the "herd" as much as possible.

This argument isn't just pitting parents against parents -- it's also turning parents against their pediatricians. "Parents often have a hard time reasonably assessing the risks involved because they've never had any experience with many of the diseases that vaccines prevent," says Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of Baby 411. "But I've seen children with serious cases of measles, mumps, and whooping cough, and I have seen a child die from chicken pox. I promise you that these are diseases you don't want your child to get."

Although some doctors are refusing to take on patients whose families don't plan to immunize, it's important for parents and pediatricians to have respectful conversations. In the end, many doctors say that the strongest statement they can make in favor of vaccinating kids is to point to the family photos on their office walls. "Sometimes the only way that I can get through to nervous parents is by telling them that I don't do anything different for my own two children," says Dr. Brown. "Fortunately, most parents do decide to vaccinate."

That was the case last year when Lisa Estall overcame her fears and celebrated Summer's first birthday with a round of immunizations. And it was the case when Alison Singer brought her 12-year-old daughter, Jodie, who has autism, in for an H1N1 shot. "Kids were dying all across the country from this flu. Just because my daughter has autism doesn't mean she should be denied a potentially lifesaving vaccine," she says. "On the contrary, I wanted her to be protected."

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