Thursday, Sep 18, 2014
Health

Failing to immunize children has risks, doctors say


Published:   |   Updated: August 24, 2014 at 01:12 PM

New parents face many decisions that will affect the health and well-being of their babies.

One important decision — whether to immunize — can affect more than just their child. Opting out of scheduled immunizations against diseases can put others at risk and has the potential to bring back diseases that nearly have been eradicated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maladies such as polio and diphtheria are all but eliminated due to vaccinations. But if vaccinations stop, those diseases could reoccur.

For that reason it is important for new parents to vaccinate their babies and keep them routinely vaccinated, on schedule, so the diseases can be completely eliminated, advocates of the preventive measures say.

Controversy always is part of the equation for new mothers trying to do what is best for their babies. Fear of harming their infants has prevented some new parents from choosing to proceed with vaccinations.

The link between vaccinations and autism has been a trending topic for years. But recent studies have eliminated vaccinations as a cause for the neurological disorder that affects as many as one in 60 births in the United States.

Reyna Walters, from Pasco County, has a unique perspective on immunizations. The mother of three, two of whom have been diagnosed with autism, Walters suggests why every child should be immunized:

Ryan, now 7, received all of his shots, as recommended. At age 5, he was diagnosed with high functioning autism.

Walters’ second child, Hunter, now 4, received no immunizations because, at the time of his birth, Walters thought there was a chance Ryan’s autism might be linked to his vaccinations.

Walters had read books on the topic and, like many moms with older autistic children, was cautious with her second child. Even when Hunter showed classic signs of the neurological disorder, Walters still refrained from immunizations.

Hunter was diagnosed with low functioning autism at age 2. He had not received a single immunization at that point. Her theory disproved, Walter immediately had her youngest son immunized.

When her daughter, Aryah, was born, Walters immunized.

According to vaccines.gov, there are five reasons to vaccinate children on schedule.

♦ Immunizations save lives. Advances in medical science have helped immunizations protect against even more diseases.

♦ Vaccinations are safe and effective. Children receive vaccinations only after a long and careful review by scientists, doctors and healthcare professionals. Serious side effects from vaccinations are rare. And the disease prevention benefits are much higher than the minimal risks.

♦ Immunizations protect others. Children in the United States still get diseases that are vaccine preventable. There have been resurgences of measles and pertussis in recent years. In 2010, 21,000 cases of whooping cough and 26 deaths were reported in the United States, the website states. Vaccinations, therefore, not only protect the families of children who are vaccinated but help prevent the spread of these diseases, it concludes.

♦ Vaccinations can save time and money. Vaccine-preventable diseases can result in prolonged disabilities and substantial financial burdens.

♦ Vaccinations protect future generations. Vaccines are proven to have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated many diseases. One example is the smallpox vaccination that eliminated that disease worldwide. In addition, vaccinations against rubella (German measles) dramatically has decreased a mother’s risk of passing on that virus to her unborn child. Birth defects associated with the virus no longer are seen in the United States.

Florida’s Department of Health recognizes August as National Immunization Awareness Month and encourages parents to make sure their children are up to date.

“Back-to-school vaccinations help to protect Florida’s children and families from the spread of infectious diseases,” said Celeste Phillip, deputy secretary for health and deputy state health officer for Children’s Medical Services. “I encourage Florida’s parents to review their child’s immunization records and requirements and make plans to obtain needed immunizations soon.”

It also is important that the schedule be followed, said Sherry Christensen, staff clerk for the immunization program at the Florida Department of Health Hernando. “Many parents are really good about keeping the schedule in the beginning but taper off as their child gets older.”

The schedule is designed to stimulate the child’s immune system so they get the most immunity possible. “They will still get the immunity even if they receive them late,” she said. “But they will get even better immunity if they get the immunizations on time.”

Reyna Walters didn’t hesitate to vaccinate her daughter, Aryah, 2, when she was born. “It’s a topic I feel very strongly about,” she said.

For more information about immunizations, schedules and infectious diseases, contact Florida’s Department of Health Hernando at www.florida health.gov/hernando.

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