Take growing numbers of unvaccinated Americans, send them to countries where disease is rampant, and no one should be surprised that they become ill and infect others upon their return.
It happened recently in Tacoma, when an infant too young to be immunized was infected with measles at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. The disease is believed to have been transmitted when several infected members of a South King County family sought treatment. They had been infected by a relative who had recently traveled to an area which is experiencing a measles outbreak.
That shows the danger the growing anti-vaccination movement can pose, not just to the children of the so-called “anti-vaxxers” but also to people who for some reason can’t be immunized, including infants and those with compromised immune systems. Personal contact isn’t required for transmission; the measles virus can linger in the air hours after an infected person has walked by. It is so contagious that any unvaccinated child exposed to it is likely will be infected.
Once all but eradicated in this country, measles is making a big comeback, particularly in communities that traditionally have low immunization rates, such as the Amish. But many people aren’t allowing their children to be vaccinated either because they don’t want to be bothered or because they fear side effects. A 1998 study even linked vaccination to autism. Although that study was retracted and its author disgraced, some true believers still insist on promoting the false autism link.
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The side effects argument no longer holds water. A new report in the journal Pediatrics analyzed 67 research studies conducted from 2010 to 2013 and found very few instances of serious vaccination side effects; no deaths; and no link to autism, food allergies or cancer.
The benefits of immunization far outweigh the tiny risks: The Centers for Disease Control estimates that vaccines administered to infants and young children in the last 20 years will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the course of those youngsters’ lifetimes.
Measles isn’t a harmless childhood disease. It is the eighth leading cause of mortality worldwide and, among children, the most vaccine-preventable cause of death. Besides killing one or two of every 1,000 children it infects, the disease can lead to blindness, deafness, pneumonia, encephalitis and mental retardation. It can cause pregnant women to miscarry, give birth prematurely or have an underweight baby.
The new report in Pediatrics shows that parents who don’t get their children vaccinated for fear of side effects are actually putting them at much greater risk of death and the serious side effects of disease. And sadly, they’re endangering other people’s children, like the infant at Mary Bridge.