Imagine that you have been given one of the greatest gifts you will ever receive in your entire life, the birth of your first child. With the joy of seeing nature work its magic, you are now faced with the reality that it is your responsibility, as a parent, to care for this vulnerable child. One of the biggest decisions you will ever make in the life of your child is the decision to vaccinate.
But why do we vaccinate in the first place?
The idea of vaccines has been around as far back as the 1800s. Edward Jenner’s experiments showed that a child could be protected from smallpox, a disease eradicated thanks to vaccinations, if they were inoculated with lymph from a smallpox blister of a vaccinated patient. At the time, this experiment received a horde of public criticism from “vaccination critics,” who completely ignored the obvious health benefits and focused entirely on the mistrust of medicine and government.
Now, 200 years later, we find ourselves in a similar situation – conspiracy theories and pseudoscience are clouding the science and truth regarding vaccines. Campaign ads circulating on social media negating the benefits, or touting the dangers, of vaccines now are the first things that come up on an internet search regarding these necessary inoculations.
The most common reason I see every day in my practice is the fear that vaccines cause autism. This myth has not only been disproven numerous times, but also the initial study done in 1998 by Dr. Wakefield was proven fraudulent and was retracted from the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008. Millions of children have been observed, and it has been shown that there is absolutely NO LINK between vaccines and autism.
We, as parents, need to be emotionally aware that our fear may prevent us from making the right decisions. Science and evidence-based medicine takes the emotion out of the equation and allows for the data to show us the correct path.
My advice to all new parents is to arm themselves with trustworthy information, and the first place to begin the research process is in the pediatrician’s office. Pediatricians are trained in the science of vaccination. They can explain why vaccines work and when they need to be given, all while also providing new parents with websites full of scientific evidence about the safety of vaccinations.
Vaccine science has shown us that there is a critical number of people who need to be inoculated to achieve “herd immunity,” which is achieved when a disease can’t affect those unable to be vaccinated, simply because there are not enough “vulnerable hosts” to allow the virus to spread.
The phenomenon we are witnessing in New York City with “Measles Parties” happening over the last couple of months is due to a breakdown in herd immunity. This practice is not only unsafe but could potentially lead to death. As people decide to forego vaccinations, the disease can now spread to society’s most vulnerable members. Measles is a very contagious virus – nine out of 10 people who are not immunized will get the disease if exposed.
While I cannot deny that it is true that natural immunity will create a stronger resistance than vaccine immunity, I ask those parents and believers: at what cost?
Today, we are facing the largest number of measles cases in the U.S. since the year 2000, when measles was officially eradicated from the country. So far, in 2019, there have been 21 hospitalizations due to measles and five intensive care unit admissions.
Fortunately, no deaths from measles. Yet.
As the epidemic continues, we will reach a point where the numbers of infected will lead to measles death of children in the U.S., and we are not far from a global measles epidemic (again). With the ease of travel and the fact that measles is contagious even before symptoms start, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable and have allowed fear to be used to influence our decisions, not science.
It is our responsibility to protect our children in every way possible, and we cannot continue to allow the anti-vaxxer movement to continue to promulgate fear.
As a father of three beautiful children, a pediatrician, and a believer of the scientific process, I strongly recommend all parents to vaccinate their children. For the sake of your newborn child, educate yourself with reliable information.
Dr. Juan Carlos Millon, MD, is a board-certified TopLine MD Pediatrician with practices in Doral and Plantation. Dr. Millon has spent countless hours working with humanitarian medical teams throughout the world, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a member of the American Medical Association, the Florida Pediatric Society, the Florida Medical Association, and the Texas Pediatric Association.