Opinion

Data suggest vaccines are safe and critical

As a family physician, father and skeptic, I have thought a lot about immunization. I am originally from Missouri (the “show me” state): I don’t believe anything I’m told until I see compelling evidence from unbiased sources. I believe that pharmaceutical companies are profit-driven, and I don’t read any of the huge volumes of propaganda they send me. I think that the oligarchy of the wealthy work within government and industry to serve their own needs, often at the people’s expense. As parents and citizens, we need to make our own wise choices for our children and ourselves. I applaud any parent who pauses before immunizing to ensure it’s the right choice for their child.

I also believe that all of the currently recommended immunizations are safe and effective and should be used to protect all of our precious children.

An impressive array of procedures and a staggering amount of data assure and demonstrate the safety of all the current vaccines. It takes five years of clinical trials involving thousands of participants to prove safety and efficacy before the Food and Drug Administration licenses a vaccine. Then, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) holds public meetings and makes the final recommendations for use of the vaccine. ACIP has 53 experts from academic medical centers, public health departments and public advocacy organizations; only one member represents the pharmaceutical industry. 

The Vaccine Safety Datalink Project run by the Centers for Disease Control reviews medical and vaccination records of over six million people to look for any adverse consequences of immunization. The Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System requires by law that health-care providers and vaccine manufacturers report any significant adverse event that seems to be associated with a vaccine. 

Diabetes, cancer and autism have been specifically studied and no connection with immunization has been shown. Thimerosal is a preservative that some are concerned about. It was shown to not cause any harm but was removed from childhood vaccines in 2001 as a precaution due to minute amounts of non-absorbable ethylmercury in it. None of the safety systems has discovered any health risks with use of the current vaccines. This is powerful evidence that our vaccines are safe.

Some worry that vaccines interfere with our natural ability to fight off other infections we’re not immunized against. There’s good data that suggest that’s not true. Our immune systems are constantly working to protect us from bacteria and viruses that we encounter in our environment. Immunizations contain weakened or inactivated bacteria and viruses that safely strengthen our immune defenses against specific infections. Vaccines simply mimic the natural process. 

Another issue that comes up is whether it’s a good idea for newborns or 2-month-olds to get vaccines. Again, good evidence indicates that giving children immunizations in the first three months of life not only safely protects them against those infections, but also decreases the risk of them getting unrelated bacterial and viral infections.

Finally, there’s the issue of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, a serious respiratory infection that can cause pneumonia, seizure and death. This is a particular concern for Vashon due to the 15 percent of children at Chautauqua who have not been immunized. When pertussis comes to our schools, it is very likely we’ll face a large-scale epidemic that will quickly spread through the non-immunized children and infect some of the immunized children as well, since the vaccine is not 100 percent protective. I urge all parents to immunize their children against pertussis. If all our children get immunized against pertussis, it cannot spread through our community.

Pertussis and a number of other diseases some parents opt not to immunize against are serious and far from eradicated in the United States.

Hepatitis B causes 78,000 new infections and 5,000 deaths annually in non-immunized people. Tetanus disease is reported in 100 non-immunized people a year. Pertussis causes about 400 cases a year just in Washington state. Heamophilus influenzae type B (Hib) causes 20,000 cases of severe Hib disease such as meningitis each year in unimmunized children under 5. Pneumococcal disease with strep bacteria causes 700 cases of meningitis annually. Influenza is an extremely common winter infection with 36,000 deaths annually; children are at increased risk and 1 in 200 children under 4 with influenza will be hospitalized. Measles caused 56,622 cases and 123 deaths in the 1989-1991 epidemic due to large numbers of non-immunized children. Mumps, Rubella, Meningococcus, Hepatitis A and HPV all cause much disease and death that is preventable with immunization.

I share these details because I feel it is important for parents to study the subject and make informed decisions, not ones based on emotions or misinformation. Please immunize your children to protect their health and to protect our community from the spread of disease.

 

— Brad Roter, a Vashon resident, is a family physician at the Country Doctor Community Clinic and a clinical associate professor at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

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