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August 28, 2013

The Importance of Infant Immunizations

Jeffrey Harrison, DO
Jeffrey Harrison, DO

New parents all want what is best for their baby. However the success of vaccines in the last 30 years has caused people to forget the dangers of opting out of immunizations. The percentage of unvaccinated school-age children in Washington has climbed to 6.2 percent, or one in 20 kindergarten students, posing a significant health risk. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Washington state has the highest rate of unvaccinated children in the United States.

Not immunizing children puts them at risk for severe infections and illnesses, because they have not had time to build natural immunity. The decision to not immunize children presents serious health risks that extend beyond a single child or family to the community at large. Low vaccination rates lower immunity throughout the entire United States population, resulting in what is known as a weakening of a community’s “herd immunity.”

Immunizations stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases in communities by lowering the number of people who could host the diseases. Without hosts, the diseases can’t spread, thus providing herd immunity. When a few mothers, for religious, social or other reasons, opted out of having their children immunized 20 years ago, those children were protected by the herd. Over time, as more young mothers choose to forego immunization, it raises risk for the entire community.

Misinformation about vaccines is a leading reason mothers choose not have their children immunized. While some immunizations can cause side effects, such as fever, swelling and pain at the vaccination site, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and rare instances of encephalitis, the risk of death and illness from preventable diseases is far greater than the risk of side effects from vaccines.

About the writer: Jeffrey Harrison, DO, is a family medicine physician with Franciscan Medical Clinic on Pt. Fosdick, affiliated with St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor. Need a doctor? Call the Franciscan Physician Referral Line toll-free: 1-888-825-3227.