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Why don't some parents vaccinate their kids?

October 3, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
What do you make of people choosing not to vaccinate their kids?

According to a study released online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, more than one in 10 parents has decided to either delay vaccinating their kids on the government's recommended schedule, have refused to give their children some vaccinations or have refused to vaccinate them altogether. Most of the parents who made that choice said they were concerned that giving so many shots at once might not be safe and delay giving their kids certain shots. Others are concerned about certain vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine; some parents think it could cause autism, even though no association between autism and the MMR vaccine has been found.

Only about 2 percent of kids have never had any shots, but that's still a fair number of kids walking around without immunity. In North Dakota, parents can opt out of shots for religious or philosophical reasons. Most states allow parents to opt out for one reason or another and still send their kids to school.

It's true that vaccines can cause injury in some rare cases and parents won't know whether their kid is one of the injured until after he's received the shot. On the other hand, kids can and do die of preventable diseases like measles, the flu, and diphtheria. My maternal grandfather's baby sister died of diphtheria in the days before a vaccine was available and my paternal grandfather's toddler sister died of a fever that there is probably a vaccine for today. Families that didn't lose one or more small children to measles, whooping cough, mumps, diphtheria or polio a century ago could consider themselves lucky.

My nephews will never have to suffer through chicken pox the way their father and I did. I ran a high fever, had pox all over my body that left me with several scars, and missed a week of school when I was nine. In rare cases, chicken pox can cause encephalitis. When I read about parents who hold "chicken pox parties" and deliberately expose their kids to other kids who have it, I think they're more than a little nuts.

There's also a risk to the general public when parents don't vaccinate, since disease will spread and people who are unable to be vaccinated for various reasons, such as weakened immune systems or allergies, could be infected. Even some people who have been vaccinated might catch the disease since their immunity might have waned.

Vaccinations are pretty reliable, but they aren't full-proof and don't guarantee 100 percent immunity in every single person who receives a shot. That's why the public is safer when a lot of people have been vaccinated and there's less chance for the disease to spread.

While there's no doubt that parents have a right to refuse vaccines, I hope most of them will vaccinate their kids, for the health of the kids and the good of society as a whole.


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