Thursday, July 29, 2010

To Vaccinate or not to Vaccinate!!

I wrote this post last year.  I decided to repost today...

I read this article in the LA Times yesterday about vaccines and recent outbreaks of Measles in certain communities and it made me mad.  I well realize that parents on both sides of this argument feel very strongly.  So, this could get me in trouble, but I'm willing to take the risk.  The gist of the article is that in California there is a rising number of kindergartners who are getting vaccine exemptions  (essentially the parents saying we don't believe in vaccinating our kid).  They just have to sign a form and the kid can enter school unvaccinated.  This isn't such a problem if the majority of the other kids are vaccinated, but with as few as 5-10% unvaccinated kids you can get mini epidemics of diseases that are otherwise quite rare these days, ie measles, mumps, diptheria etc.  According to the LA times there have been several such measles outbreaks in the San Diego and the rate of unvaccinated kids is especially worrisome in several charter schools and non-catholic private schools.

OK, here is my take on this vaccine thing.  When I was a pediatric resident at the beginning of every year in clinic we reviewed the vaccine schedule, risks and benefits of all the vaccines and why we vaccinate against them.  As you can imagine, by the time we were third years my friend and I would joke that the reason to vaccinate against these diseases is because they can KILL.  Most of the diseases vaccinated against are things that kill people.  (OK recently we've added a few not so deadly disease to vaccinate against and I used to use this same argument to question if that was right).  But I digress the main issue at hand seems to largely be the Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine (MMR).  This one started to fall out of favor after an article linked it to autism.  The fallacy of that study is that autism typically becomes apparent around 15-18 months and almost every child gets the MMR at 12-15 months.  The two were temporally linked, nothing more.  The only study that really looked at vaccines and autism rates showed no difference.  So, my argument and what I used to advise people to do if they were really worried was just delay the shot until their child was already talking.  OK, so there is the mercury thing, but manufacturers have gotten into that and combined more shots and made more of the vaccines without the mercury contained preservative so that is pretty much a nonissue.  Of course, again, you can delay, space them out and make it even less of an issue if really worried.

So back to the diseases behind the vaccines, why care.  Let's start with measles since that was what the article was about.  Measles still exists in the US and is especially prevalent in certain European countries, not to mention less developed nations.  Measles isn't so bad for the average school age kid, but it is DEADLY for infants, and not good for the elderly or immunocompromised.  I took care of a 9 month old infant who had measles encephalitis as a resident.  The child spent two weeks essentially comatose.  She ultimately went home, but the long term effects are likely significant.  Hello this baby almost died, her parents were rightly infuriated and scared.

 How did she get it?  Her older sibling's friend wasn't vaccinated.  She came home from vacation with measles and before she got sick played at the vaccinated friends house.  Thereby exposing the unprotected child.  The child who was too young to get vaccinated even though her parents would have.  You see there is the problem.  It isn't just one kid.  It effects the community.  The LA times article had several similar vignettes of infants under 1 year of age being exposed to measles by unvaccinated friends of their older siblings.  The year before the measles vaccine was released-  ~500 people died from the measles and ~4500 kids had measles encephalitis.  Do I really need to say more?

OK, so now mumps.  Mumps doesn't seem so bad, right?  It used to be the biggest cause of male infertility.  That's right mumps infections in prepubescent or adolescent boys can leave them infertile.  How about Polio?  Now eradicated from the Western Hemisphere, but its long term effects were devastating.

I could go on, but I think I have said enough.  I guess my bias is obvious.  Please people vaccinate your kids.  If you're really worried, it isn't terrible to slow down the vaccinations, but please.  These are bad diseases.


DrV said...

And if you really want to understand the story behind this whole antivaccine nonsense be sure to read Paul Offit's book, Autism's False Prophets. Brilliant.

drlori71 said...

I'm a physician and a parent and cannot understand how parents choose not to vaccinate their kids. Oh wait, maybe it's because instead of educating themselves, they choose to listen to morons...I mean unqualified, non-medical professionals like Jenny McCarthy. Thank you for this post. I hope parents with vaccine questions find this post and realize the great harm they are doing by not vaccinating their children.

Mama Kat said...

Thank you...Thank you, thank you. I am a just a mom (I say that like its not enough) but my daughter is imunocompormised. My 4th child. I have to watch everything, and monitor everyone who comes into my house. Because so many people choose not to vaccinate. Thank you for putting this out there. The herd thing is not working anymore people!

Kathy2579 said...

Thank you...
I am a teacher and fear larger outbreaks.
I even made sure my titer (sp?) and boosters were up to date to make sure.