While folks were busy rooting for their favorite team at the Super Bowl, others were busy keeping a small outbreak of measles in check. In case you missed it, the Indiana State Department of Health has identified four cases of measles that may be related to the Super Bowl. The CDC was contacted and health officials are urging individuals to be aware of measles symptoms and to make sure they’re up-to-date on their vaccinations. Measles, also called rubeola, is highly contagious, causing fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. One out of ten children who contract measles also contract an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. Out of every 1,000 children who gets measles, one or two will die. Those figures may seem slight and not really very risky, but note that measles is on the rise. In 2000, the CDC noted that measles were pretty much eliminated in the U.S. and during 2001 to 2008 just 58 cases of measles, on average, were reported in the U.S. annually. Fast forward a few years though, and now the CDC reported 118 cases of measles during the first 19 weeks of 2011. Of those infected, 89% were also not vaccinated. This shows that while we can eradicate diseases to a point with vaccines, they can come back. It’s not just measles either. Many blame lower childhood vaccine rates for the increase of some other common diseases such as whooping cough. In any case, this entire situation brings up some good questions about vaccines and vaccine safety. It’s important that you weigh the risks of vaccines versus the risk of disease.

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Why Vaccinate?

Some parents don’t vaccinate their children. Maybe you’re thinking you won’t vaccinate either. That’s your right. However, you should also weigh the risks of not vaccinating, before you make this decision. When weighing the risk of vaccines for your child you should consider the following:

  • What is the likelihood of something going terribly wrong when your child does get a vaccine?
  • What is the likelihood of something going terribly wrong if your child doesn’t get vaccinated and instead contracts a possible deadly disease?
  • How dangerous are the diseases you can get if you’re not vaccinated?

According to research from most major health organizations, the diseases your child may contract if he’s not vaccinated are far more dangerous than the vaccine. For example, every single vaccine on the planet has potential side effects. Yet, all the diseases these vaccines protect against also carry side effects.  Plus, more children die each year due to infectious diseases than die from a negative vaccine reaction. As an example, the MMR vaccine poses a side effect risk of convulsions for 1 in 1000 individuals. Measles on the other hand poses a side effect risk of convulsions for 1 in 200 individuals.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VAERS specifically) receives around 30,000 reports of adverse vaccine reactions annually. Just 13% of the reactions are classified as serious (e.g., associated with disability, hospitalization, life-threatening illness or death). Before vaccines, 13,000 to 20,000 cases of paralytic polio, 100-150 chicken pox deaths, 600 meningitis deaths and 9,000 pertussis-related deaths occurred each year. That doesn’t cover all the other diseases vaccines protect against or the potentially long-term and painful side effects these diseases used to cause. Getting back to measles, the MMR vaccine causes a serious allergic reactions for one person for every million doses, but the disease itself used to kill 450 people annually in the U.S. alone.

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Image by CDC Amanda Mills

What is Meant by Weighing Risks?

What exactly does weighing the risks of vaccines mean? Every single decision you make for your child may carry some risk. Risk, however does not mean a decision is a bad choice. Potential risk also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a choice, especially if there are benefits as well. Consider outside play. Sure, if you let your child run around outside, there’s a risk he may get hurt. There’s also a potential for great benefits, such as healthier eyesight, a smaller risk of obesity and better mental health, not to mention a fun and memorable childhood.

Lastly, weighing the risks of vaccines means being realistic about the risks you already take. What risks are you taking now that are more dangerous than vaccines? For example, car accidents, not vaccines are the leading cause of childhood injury and death. Home fires, drowning in bathtubs, falls and poison kill more children every year than vaccines. Although there’s a much higher risk that your child will drown in your bathtub or be killed in a car accident, most parents put their children in cars every single day and bath their kids a few times a week. You’re engaging in risk behavior in many cases, and most of those risks far outweigh the risks of vaccines.

Why not tell us what you think in the comments. Do you think vaccines are too risky or do you think they’re safe. Coming up tomorrow, we’ll look at some potential dangers of vaccines and other reasons why some parents don’t vaccinate their children.

Lead Image by CDC Amanda Mills