Note- this is an older post but not much as changed in regard to concerns about vaccine use, including effectiveness and safety. From parents to politicians everyone seems to have an opinion, much of which is not backed up by science. I invite you to read through my thoughts on the issue which haven’t changed, or scroll through to the bottom where I have links to some resources that provide sound evidence based information.
The measles outbreak in the United States highlights the ongoing controversy over to immunize or not to immunize. As a physician I do recommend immunization when indicated; as a person, I received vaccinations for many diseases for which I am at risk, and permitted my children to be vaccinated.
Remember that vaccination or immunization (which are in general terms synonymous) is a medical procedure and vaccines are drugs; and so their use should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other drug or procedure. Until recent years, immunization has been almost universal in the United States, so we forget that its use should be individualized. that is,
What contagious diseases is a person likely to be exposed to?
What are the risks versus benefits of any particular vaccine for that person?
What are the risks versus benefits to other people?
Until the recent decades most people were at risk for most infectious diseases, so we recommended vaccination for everyone, unless contraindicated (this means a medical reason not to do it)
The developed countries have eliminated or controlled many of the environmental sources of contagious disease; indoor plumbing, water treatment facilities, screens on windows, and air purifiers. We screen our blood supply, wear gloves to prepare food, inspect restaurants, and put signs in many public restrooms reminding us to wash our hands.
However, we have not eliminated another source of infectious disease- and that is other humans. It is rare that we isolate or quarantine people with infections. Most of us will admit that we have gone to work, school or social events with symptoms suggestive of infection- a cough, runny nose, upset stomach- and by doing so put our friends and colleagues at risk.
If I had high cholesterol, it is my right not to take a cholesterol lowering drug to try and prevent a heart attack. If I have a heart attack, I will not transmit that to another human being. But if I fail to get an influenza vaccination, and contract influenza, and transmit that to a relative, friend, or a patient- is that my right?
I hope we can get past the politicization and polarization of this issue, and develop policies that meet the needs of both individuals and society.
Please review these excellent resources on vaccine use
The Science Behind Vaccination from The New York Times
7 things about vaccines from The Washington Post
Reconsidering vaccination a blog post review of the book The Vaccine Friendly Plan
Voices for Vaccines – a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.