Dallas, TX –
The news just started carrying reminders to get flu shots, but when it comes to your kids' health, the most important shots are the first ones, the vaccinations. There's good news and not so good news. Nationally, 77% of kids are getting all the recommended vaccines, However, entirely preventable diseases are making a comeback.
Here in Texas, the good news is that we are not listed in the 15 states experiencing measles or polio outbreaks; Texas has done an outstanding job making vaccines available through the Texas Vaccine for Children, or TVIC, program. However, Texas ranks very low, 43rd, in having children up-to-date in age appropriate vaccines, so there's considerable room for improvement.
Dr. Greg Sonnon, a Baylor pediatrician and one of the nation's leading advocates for immunization, is worried about the trend lines. More parents are refusing vaccines and the results are clear. Take Pertussis or whooping cough. The vaccine was well established by 1948 and infections plummeted. By the 1970s, there were only 1000 cases a year. But in 2006, there were 26,000 cases, and the U.S. is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of infants who die from Pertussis.
Dr. Sonnen says the Number One question from parents is, "Are the vaccines safe?" His answer, and that of the Dallas County and Texas officials, is an emphatic "Yes!" For one thing, they've gone high tech. For example, the DPT vaccine, for Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus, until 1997, used what was called "whole cell" technology. It could cause fever, irritability and very rarely, seizures. The new vaccine technology just uses a few pieces of protein from the bacteria which causes the disease. The polio vaccine used to use weakened live virus cells. Today, they use cells which have been killed. Goodbye side affects.
Parents have become complacent because we don't see the horrible deaths from these diseases. No one we know has died an agonizing death from tetanus. We've never seen a baby turn blue and literally asphyxiate, die from lack of oxygen, from the dopey sounding disease called whooping cough. We're uneducated. We don't think about the very real risk with measles for the children who will get encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, which can cause permanent damage.
And finally, we're prey to all those rumors on the internet. Dr. Sonnen says every day parents come in clutching articles that look scientific. Vaccines are an issue where parental rights balance with the need to protect helpless young children, but the mandate of public health officials is to protect the public.
It is true that children need to get more vaccinations than when I was growing up. But that's because we know how to prevent more diseases such as Hepatitis A & B. This issue doesn't just affect children. Varicella may be an itchy nuisance for kids, but it can be life threatening if you get it as an adult. Not sure what varicella is? Think back to your Elizabethan history. A favorite curse was, "A pox on it!" It's chicken pox. Vaccines protect us into adulthood. So, get your kids vaccinated, and make sure your own shots are up to date.
Merrie Spaeth is a communications specialist based in Dallas.
If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.