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If your children don’t have their shots, they are at greater risk for some deadly diseases. They can also spread those diseases to their friends and family.
We all know babies and young children need a lot of shots, so they may be simpler to remember. But all children need vaccines to stay healthy, such as those they should get during the busy preteen and teenage years. Your doctor may remind you about them during an annual well-child visit.
Vaccines are a reliable way to prevent many once-deadly diseases. They work by exposing your body to a very small amount of weak or dead versions of germs or viruses. Your immune system then builds up resources to fight those bugs in the future. Vaccines have slowed or stopped the spread of polio, measles, mumps and other diseases in the U.S. Download the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Immunization schedule. A hundred years ago, millions of people would die from a single outbreak of those infectious diseases. Today that’s not the case. But there still is talk about the safety of vaccines for various reasons. You’ve likely heard talk on T.V., online and even in the carpool line. Some parents aren’t sure and have refused shots for their children. For example, a common fear you’ve likely heard about is the alleged link between autism and vaccines. But trusted research repeatedly has found no such link. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that vaccines do not cause autism. A new study of more than 650,000 children in Denmark again shows no link between autism and the safety of vaccines.
One rare disease made a comeback due to just a small number of parents who decided not to get their children vaccinated. It started when several children who visited an amusement park in 2014 came down with measles. That hadn’t happened in the U.S. in 15 years. It continues with another rise in 2019 cases , this time related to air plane travel from countries where the risk of measles is higher. “The overwhelming number of people who have gotten infected, particularly among children, are children that have not been vaccinated,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “And it’s really unfortunate because vaccination can prevent all of this. One of the things we do know about the measles vaccine is that we have one of the most effective vaccines we have for any viral disease or for any microbe.” Measles isn’t the only disease that may make a comeback if the anti-vaccine trend continues. Whooping cough is commonly a childhood disease that we’ve also seen recent outbreaks of that also can spread quickly.
While we are lucky that some diseases no longer exist in the U.S., like the 2019 measles outbreak shows, they are often only a plane ride away. For example, polio also still affects some children in certain Middle-Eastern, African, and Pacific Island countries. People who are infected can spread the disease for weeks; both before and after warnings appear.
These and other examples highlight why the CDC says “we could soon find ourselves battling epidemics of diseases we thought we had conquered decades ago.”
Finally, getting vaccinated also helps protect our family, friends and other people around us. Some people such as very young babies, pregnant women, those getting cancer treatment, who have had organ transplants, HIV or other conditions might be unable to get certain vaccines temporarily or at all. One way to protect these populations is to ensure people around them are fully vaccinated, which decreases the chance of spreading these diseases.
If you have concerns or questions, talk to your doctor or your child’s doctor. She or he can point you to the facts. That way, you can make the best decision for the health of your family and your community.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) helps children get immunized because immunizations are a critical part of care for infants and children. Through the Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® initiative, BCBSIL assists with the Illinois Care Van®, a mobile immunization program.
Originally published August 10, 2015; Revised 2019
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