PD Editorial: There's no reason to fear immunization

  • 9/13/2010: B6:

    PC: Nurse practitioner Pat Kavanaugh administers a shot to Jesse Fernandez to vaccinate him against whooping cough at the Sonoma County Public Health booth at the Santa Rosa Downtown Market on Wednesday, June 30, 2010.

The evidence keeps mounting: Vaccines don't cause autism. They don't cause diabetes. Side effects are rare and seldom life-threatening.

In short, vaccines aren't a health threat — unless you don't get them.

The latest assurance came last week from the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. Its independent panel of medical experts examined more than 1,000 research studies and concluded that the benefits of immunization against measles, whooping cough and other communicable diseases outweigh any risks.

"We have a lot of evidence that vaccines save lives and avert a lot of suffering," Ellen Wright Clayton, a professor of pediatrics and law at Vanderbilt University who chaired the review committee, told the Washington Post.

Immunization rates have been declining, driven at least in part by a report linking childhood vaccinations to autism. The report has been refuted as a fraud and retracted, but the debate about vaccination has continued.

Meanwhile, public health officials are reporting outbreaks of infectious diseases that had become exceedingly rare because of immunizations.

In the United States, this has been the worst year since 1996 for measles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Large outbreaks also have been reported in Africa and Europe.

Last year, California suffered its worst outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, in 67 years, with more than 8,200 cases and 10 deaths. All but one of the 10 fatalities were infants less than 8 weeks old, meaning they were too young to be immunized. Their families never had the choice.

Because the pertussis vaccine wears down after about 10 years, a new state law requires all students entering seventh through 12th grade to have a booster. A 30-day grace period ends this month, so if you're children haven't been inoculated, act quickly or they could be suspended from school. Worse, they could be at heightened risk of a painful disease sometimes called the 100-day cough.

Vaccinations are available at physicians' offices, many pharmacies and even some school clinics.

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