California is now in the midst of a pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic – the worst outbreak in the last 50 years. At last count, there were 1337 cases, up from 258 cases during the same period last year. So far, there have been five deaths, all in Latino infants under the age of three months. Traditionally, Latino children have had the highest rates among all ethnic groups. The pertussis vaccine is given as part of the DTaP to infants at ages 2 months, four months, and six months, so children are not considered fully immunized until after six months of age: that is, assuming the parents have them done at all. Here lies the problem: those infants most likely were exposed to pertussis by adults; namely unimmunized adults.
There has been a slow increase in the number of cases since the 1980’s, thought to be attributed to the decline in vaccination rates as more and more parents opt out or delay vaccinating their kids. Over the last few years, we have seen multiple pockets of pertussis show up on college campuses, but now these random cases are showing up in the general population. Other states, like Michigan and Arizona have reported more pertussis cases; California seems to be the leader once again. Pertussis may be following the words of our Terminator governor, “I’ll be back….”
With the exception of smallpox, which has been officially eradicated (in the wild) on this planet, all other vaccine-preventable diseases are still alive and kicking, whether you hear about them or not. The U.S. border is relatively porous, and infectious diseases tend to cross with impunity. It only takes one case to start an epidemic in a population that is not immunized or naturally immune.
I saw a set of three-month-old twin girls on Monday, accompanied by their proud mother and highly-suspicious grandmother. They had already informed the office that they would not be getting vaccines. The grandmother was certainly the leader of this movement. She was “calling the shots.”
Her first issue was mercury (thimerosal preservative) that is in vaccines. I informed her that there is NO thimerosal in any of the vaccines that the twins would need.
Then comes my ‘ol favorite: autism. I informed Grandma that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that vaccines….ANY vaccine…is the underlying cause of autism, no matter what she has read on the Internet or heard from someone.
Finally, there was the issue of multiple vaccines given at the same time as a possible cause of autism. Again, I explained to Grandma that this relationship has been carefully vindicated as well. Basically, we don’t know precisely what causes autism per se, but we are pretty darn sure what DOESN’T cause autism…namely the vaccines.
Grandma then said that the twins can get two vaccines today, as long as they were not “combination vaccines.” I informed her that we only have combination vaccines. They do not manufacture individual vaccines anymore.
When I asked her which ones, she asked me to choose. I informed her that all of the vaccines are important, so I do not want to choose the vaccines or the diseases that the twins may get if they are not vaccinated. I am not going to call the shots, so I spent a considerable amount of time discussing each vaccine, the recent epidemic of pertussis, and the risks versus benefits.
Grandma finally selected a vaccine combination that contained FIVE different vaccines, and another combination vaccine that covered 13 strains of pneumococcus….so much for concern over combinations. The other two vaccines that were needed were scheduled for a month later. Grandma was happy, and those twins received the most important of the scheduled vaccines.
Controversies over vaccines will continue, fired by fear and misinformation. Vaccines have saved more lives on this planet, than perhaps any public health effort, other than safe drinking water. I would never want to return to those terrible pre-vaccination days. While it is understandable that today’s Internet-savvy parents have not seen most of these disease, history will, indeed, repeat itself if we do not vaccinate our population. History does not lie. If you love your parents and grandparents, please know that many are alive due to vaccinations. Of course, you would not be here....
In a free-society, you have choices. You can choose not to wear seatbelts. You can smoke. You can take a stance and not vaccinate your kids. Statistically, since most of our population is vaccinated, your kids will probably be fine…to a point. They will be fine until they encounter someone who will inadvertently transmit a killer pathogen to them. They will then fight for their lives, and you, as the decision-maker, will question the wisdom of your decision.
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