A few weeks ago one of my kids’ schools sent out an alert advising parents that some children had confirmed cases of whooping cough. “That’s weird” I thought, seeing that whooping cough was all but eradicated before I was even born. Oh well, silly me, I forgot that whooping cough, and many other diseases were eradicated before the modern day version of snake oil salesmen came along.
Thanks to a massive international vaccination effort, world-wide fatalities from smallpox fell from two million annually in 1967 to zero by 1980, when health authorities confirmed the complete eradication of the disease. The Salk and Sabin vaccines have saved five million people from paralytic polio, and eradication of that once common disease is in sight. Vaccination against infectious childhood diseases now prevents more than 2.5 million deaths annually, with an extremely low risk of serious side effects.
Yet these achievements have rendered the benefits less visible to young parents, enabling imagined dangers and the rare side effects of vaccines to capture heightened attention. Paradoxically, some of the strongest concerns about vaccines have arisen in the United States and Europe—the leading funders of global immunization efforts—and are prevalent among more highly educated, higher-income groups.
In the U.S., the prestigious Institute of Medicine released an important report in January that found “no evidence of major safety concerns associated with adherence to the childhood immunization schedule.” But the report is unlikely to have the last word in the blogosphere.
An anxious parent who Googles “Are vaccines dangerous?” will find four of the top five results offering an emphatic “yes”—despite compelling evidence to the contrary. Such sources typically are vocal opponents of current vaccine policies who have harnessed the power of the Internet.
Please read the whole thing if you can, especially if you’re the parent of an infant, toddler or school aged child that’s due for a vaccination. I never hesitate to point out government’s failures, but vaccinations is something I believe they got right. Deadly diseases that were all but a memory during my childhood are now on the rise. Now that’s alarming.