When my son was born he didn’t exhibit primary immunodeficiency (PI) or any of the other conditions on the newborn screening panel.
Still, I fretted over just about everything. He was a healthy baby, but small. Just six pounds, three ounces. Of course, I heard all the pros and cons regarding vaccines. One of my best friends had a child who had just been diagnosed with autism, and she was on a tear posting anti-vaccination articles on her Facebook feed. So, I did what most Moms would do: Asked my son’s pediatrician for his opinion.
Although he assured me that the risks of not vaccinating my child far outweighed the evidence against vaccines, I was still hesitant to inject my tiny child with a cocktail of antibodies. But in the end I followed through because our pediatrician reminded me of a very important factor: There were a lot of other children out there who might not be so healthy. Kids who have PI, for example.
I set aside my fears and made sure my kid (like my pets) was up to date on all his shots. But the recent outbreaks of measles cases in 11 states (California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington) reminded me of my doctor’s words.
Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there have been 108 measles cases reported between January 1 and June 17 of this year. That’s a rise of 54% over last year — and we still have six months to go. 75 of these cases were reported in Minnesota alone.
For kids with rare diseases, who lack a robust immune system or are on medications that curtail the effectiveness of vaccines, exposure to measles, mumps, or any of the other diseases that we routinely vaccinate against can be devastating. They rely on the diligence of mindful parents of healthy kids parents to keep infectious diseases at bay.
Our world has come a long way since the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963. Between 2000 and 2013, there has been a 75% decline in measles deaths worldwide, according to the CDC, which equals 15.6 million prevented deaths. Before the vaccine was introduced, there were half-a-million cases reported each year around the world.
In 2000, measles in the US was thought to be eradicated, but the lack of immunization has brought it into the headlines again. As always, the most vulnerable — the very young and very old with impaired immune systems — have the most to lose. These statistics alone are a solid argument for the concept of herd immunity, which contends that 90-95% vaccination can protect the 5% who are not healthy enough to withstand the antibodies required.
The Minnesota measles outbreak is evidence of how advances in medicine can fail if we forget our past. Will we return to pre-2000 conditions? Hopefully not. Perhaps we were just lulled into a false security. In truth, vaccines are not something to be taken for granted. Like any prescribed treatment, they only work when used as directed.