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Expert advice details

Don't wait, vaccinate!

Ellen Leonard, M.D., Pediatrician [November 08 2013]

In 1951 in the United States there were 3,983 cases of diphtheria with 302 deaths, 506 cases of tetanus with 394 deaths, 28,386 cases of polio with 1,551 deaths, and 530,118 cases of measles with 683 deaths in the United States. In 2011, there were no cases of diphtheria, nine cases of tetanus, no cases of polio, and 212 cases of measles in the United States. We are very lucky that vaccines are easily available to most of us in this country. This is not necessarily so in the rest of the world, where a child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease every 20 seconds. For many children, access to immunizations means the difference between life and death, between health and a lifetime of struggle.

Vaccines are one of the great successes in medicine. Smallpox, for example, has been completely eradicated due to the success of universal vaccination. Despite this, there are those who fear vaccines or vaccine side effects. Vaccines are very safe; most side effects are mild and temporary, such as soreness at the injection site or mild fevers. Serious side effects are rare, often so rare that the risk cannot be accurately attributed to the vaccination. More than 20 studies have shown no connection between vaccines children receive and autism, whether given as a single vaccine or multiple vaccines on the same day.

Immunizing yourself and your child will also protect those around you who cannot be immunized due to true allergy to vaccine components or other contraindications. For example, getting a flu shot may protect infants under six months old who are too young to be vaccinated. It's important to know that for proper protection, vaccines need to be received on a schedule and many require “booster” doses to offer long-term protection. While most vaccines are received during infancy and early childhood, there are vaccines specifically for adolescents and young adults, and even vaccines against shingles and pneumonia for adults.

Those who don't believe in vaccines and don't immunize their children run the risk of contracting the serious infections that vaccines prevent and spreading them to others. It is now easy to travel to and from areas where these conditions are still prevalent; visitors from other countries may be carrying these illnesses, which can be transmitted to those who have not been immunized.

Every child should have the chance to build a lifetime of wonderful memories. Making sure your children are immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases is one of the easiest ways to protect against the deadly diseases that rob children of the opportunity to live and grow up strong and healthy.

Dr. Ellen Leonard is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) medical staff. For referrals to HOCC physicians, please contact our free Need-A-Physician referral service by phone at 1-800-321-6244 or online, www.thocc.org.