This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Just in time for the start of the school year comes a welcome endorsement of vaccinations – and repudiation of efforts to link them to everything from diabetes and autism to death.
An independent team of medical experts conducted a comprehensive study of the latest research and found that vaccinations rarely have serious side effects, and when they do they tend to be in people with pre-existing immune system disorders. That should come as welcome news to parents who might be reluctant to have their children immunized for school because of what they’ve read or heard about the safety of vaccines.
The most widespread claim – which has already been found to be false – links the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism. Although the link has been debunked and the doctor who made it had his license revoked in his native Britain, about one in four parents still believes it.
Some parents claim that the diphtheria-tetanus, acellular pertussis vaccine causes childhood diabetes or that the influenza vaccine worsens asthma or causes the nerve disorder Bell’s palsy.
It’s unfortunate that claims like this have gotten such traction in the United States and abroad. They’re the main reason diseases that once routinely killed or badly scarred children – such as measles and whooping cough – are threatening to make a comeback.
The study’s panel, convened by the Institute of Medicine, did find that six vaccines – including the MMR, flu, chickenpox and tetanus – can trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals, mostly those with immune-system disorders.
Even so, the risks associated with not being vaccinated far outweigh the few, mostly minor side effects.
For instance, some populations cannot be vaccinated, including infants and those aforementioned immune-compromised people. Their health depends on everyone around them being vaccinated and not spreading disease. If an unvaccinated baby comes in contact with someone suffering from measles, the baby is almost certain to be infected – and much more seriously affected than an older child.
As parents ready their children to go back to school and get them the required inoculations, they should recognize the role their own family plays in the health of the greater community. Society’s “herd immunity” to dread diseases is compromised if too many of us decide to forgo the medical miracle of vaccination.