Jennifer Kurmaskie, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician who earned a master's degree in public health. She has provided medical care as a volunteer physician in Guatemala, and currently practices at Providence Medical Group-Southwest Pediatrics.
We're all aware of the discussion about immunizations that has been going on for a number of years concerning whether or not vaccines are dangerous, or even necessary. People who advocate on either side of the issue are passionate, to be sure, and there's plenty of information out there to sway you in either direction. My concern – as a pediatrician, a public health educator and a family member – is centered on whether so much information is hurting or helping our individual and collective health.
Inaccurate information abounds in the mainstream, online, in print and by word of mouth. Many articles authored on the subject of vaccines appear to be based on science. When you dig deeper, however, you may discover that the conclusions are based on improperly conducted research or misinterpreted results. Misinformation is powerful, and the consequences can be unfortunate: people become frightened about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, which leads some to decide not to immunize, or to incompletely immunize, themselves and their children.
I've spent 20 years practicing medicine, and my personal view is that immunizations are a safe way to protect against serious infections. Some of these infections, such as measles and pertussis – known also as whooping cough – can be fatal. Others, such as Hepatitis B and human papillomavirus, or HPV, are incurable. The immunization stimulates the body to make its own protection to fight off infection when the body encounters it.
The timing of vaccines also is important. Some infections – such as pertussis, which can cause a child to stop breathing – are more serious in infants. Other infections – such as chicken pox (varicella), which can lead to pneumonia in infected adults – are more harmful to adults. Regardless of your age, you can become ill if you are not up to date on your vaccinations.
A recent whooping cough outbreak in Washington state has many concerned, as the number of cases is the highest it has been in 60 years. As cases tend to peak in summer months, officials are urging individuals to make sure they're up to date on their immunizations.
As a pediatrician, I want each child to have every opportunity to be healthy and avoid unnecessary illnesses. Getting vaccinated is a simple and effective way to help achieve this goal.
The diseases we immunize against may not be commonplace in this country. For example, many people have never seen a case of measles or polio within their group of friends and family members. Fortunately, the numbers of people sickened by those diseases have dropped due to immunization. Unfortunately, they haven't disappeared – I have seen people sick with the diseases we can vaccinate against.
In spite of our strides against widespread disease, we're seeing a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases within the global community. The popularity and relative ease of world travel, combined with lower rates of vaccination, is facilitating the spread of disease. Here in the United States – versus in other countries, where people who want vaccines do not have access to them – this problem seems more an issue of choice.
Accurate information is available to answer your questions. Have a conversation with your family's pediatrician or family practitioner – two reliable resources. Additionally, many websites offer accurate, objective and fact-based information. Two that I recommend to families are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Immunization Action Coalition.
Not sure if you're up to date? Check out the latest child and preteen vaccines as well as the latest adult vaccine schedule.