Too many American children do not receive recommended childhood vaccines for illnesses such as polio, measles, mumps, diphtheria and pertussis that were once thought to have been eradicated but are making a comeback in some areas. According to data from 2008, almost one-quarter of children ages 19 months to 35 months did not receive the recommended vaccinations.
On Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics -- perhaps frustrated with the stubborn anti-vaccine tide in the United States -- unveiled a new public health campaign called Protect Tomorrow that "brings to life the memories of the terrible diseases of the past and reminds parents that, unless they are vaccinated, infants and children are at risk for contracting infectious diseases that can lead to hospitalization, disability and even death," according to a statement from the organization.
Some children don't receive vaccines because they don't have regular access to healthcare. Others have ample access to care but have parents who are afraid of the potential side effects of some vaccines or believe vaccines cause autism. The autism link has been disproved. It's true that vaccines may carry side effects, although side effects are severe in a very small number of children. However, if trends continue and more children go unvaccinated, we may have a return of severe communicable diseases that will harm many more children than would be imperiled by the vaccines. Young parents today are simply not familiar with the horrors of the iron lung or the tragic infant deaths from pertussis that were all too common more than a half-century ago.
It may be a fear tactic, but the AAP is right to warn that history may repeat itself. Vaccination is for the good of everyone. It's time parents consider logically the public health value of vaccination -- one of the great advances of 20th century medicine -- weighed against the tiny chance of adverse side effects occurring in their child.
Information on the campaign and National Infant Immunization Week, April 24-May 1, is available at www.ProtectTomorrow.org
-- Shari Roan
Photo: A girl receives a polio vaccination in 1954. Credit: Joe Heiberger / Washington Post