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a glance: Why immunize
our children? Sometimes we are confused by the messages in the
media. First we are assured that, thanks to vaccines, some diseases
are almost gone from the U.S. But we are also warned to immunize
our children, ourselves as adults, and the elderly.
Diseases are becoming rare due
It's true, some diseases (like polio and diphtheria) are becoming
very rare in the U.S. Of course, they are becoming rare largely
because we have been vaccinating against them. But it is still reasonable
to ask whether it's really worthwhile to keep vaccinating.
It's much like bailing out a boat
with a slow leak. When we started bailing, the boat was filled with
water. But we have been bailing fast and hard, and now it is almost
dry. We could say, "Good. The boat is dry now, so we can throw
away the bucket and relax." But the leak hasn't stopped. Before
long we'd notice a little water seeping in, and soon it might be
back up to the same level as when we started.
Keep immunizing until disease is eliminated.
Unless we can "stop
the leak" (eliminate the disease), it is important to keep
immunizing. Even if there are only a few cases of disease today,
if we take away the protection given by vaccination, more and more
people will be infected and will spread disease to others. Soon
we will undo the progress we have made over the years.
Japan reduced pertussis vaccinations,
and an epidemic occurred.
In 1974, Japan had a successful
pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination program, with nearly 80%
of Japanese children vaccinated. That year only 393 cases of pertussis
were reported in the entire country, and there were no deaths from
pertussis. But then rumors began to spread that pertussis vaccination
was no longer needed and that the vaccine was not safe, and by 1976
only 10% of infants were getting vaccinated. In 1979 Japan suffered
a major pertussis epidemic, with more than 13,000 cases of whooping
cough and 41 deaths. In 1981 the government began vaccinating with
acellular pertussis vaccine, and the number of pertussis cases dropped
What if we stopped vaccinating?
So what would happen if
we stopped vaccinating here? Diseases that are almost unknown would
stage a comeback. Before long we would see epidemics of diseases
that are nearly under control today. More children would get sick
and more would die.
We vaccinate to protect our future.
We don't vaccinate just
to protect our children. We also vaccinate to protect our grandchildren
and their grandchildren. With one disease, smallpox, we "stopped
the leak" in the boat by eradicating the disease. Our children
don't have to get smallpox shots any more because the disease no
longer exists. If we keep vaccinating now, parents in the future
may be able to trust that diseases like polio and meningitis won't
infect, cripple, or kill children. Vaccinations are one of the best
ways to put an end to the serious effects of certain diseases.