Overcoming Vaccination Scare

July 11, 2012

Childhood vaccines have become a point of controversy for new parents who think they might cause harm to their children. Because of this, many diseases once thought to be wiped out such as measles, polio and pertussis (also known as whooping cough) are making a comeback.

Sandra McKay, MD, pediatrician with Mercy Clinic Pediatrics and Mercy Children’s Hospital, stresses that parents need to do their research.  “In the depression era, one in five children died of what are now vaccine-preventable diseases.  We have done so well preventing these diseases that people don’t understand the risks associated with getting them.”

Many of these diseases can have dangerous complications including seizures, brain damage, blindness and even death. Vaccines work by triggering the body’s natural immune response without the disease complications or suffering through the illness. The dead or weakened bacteria used in vaccines trick our bodies into thinking we’ve already had the disease.

Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children think they are making the decision that only affects their child. However, McKay says that is untrue. “When parents don’t immunize they are putting those who cannot receive immunizations such as young babies, the elderly or immunocompromised people, at risk of getting these diseases. It is called herd immunity.”

Herd immunity helps keep unvaccinated people protected from vaccine-preventable illnesses. For herd immunity to be effective only a small fraction of the population can be left unvaccinated. It is best to protect those who cannot safely receive vaccines because of a medical condition or age (too young or old) versus healthy children who could receive the vaccine and help keep those at risk healthy.

Not only do parents need to consider vaccinations for their children but in some cases they may actually need a booster or immunization.  There have been documented cases of whooping cough passed from a parent, who thinks it is a minor cold, to a newborn.

Proper hand washing, good nutrition and covering coughs can help limit the spread of illness, but these practices only go so far in stopping the spread of infectious disease. Vaccination helps to reduce the overall spread of disease, and helps to protect those who cannot be vaccinated.

According to the CDC, here are some complications from vaccine-preventable diseases:


Vaccine-Preventable Disease



permanent physical disability, death


ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, death

Hib Meningitis

deafness, seizures, mental retardation, death

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, death


deafness, seizures

Varicella (Chicken Pox)

secondary bacterial infection, dehydration, pneumonia, central nervous system complications


heart and nerve problems, death


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