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Dr. Susan Mathison, Published August 21 2013

Positively Beautiful: Let’s take a closer look at kids’ shots

Vaccinations have been on my mind a lot recently for a number of reasons:

1. Grant just had his kindergarten check-up with Dr. Steve Johnson and got his shots. The nurses were fast and efficient, and I think he secretly enjoyed the “big hug” he got. I know he enjoyed the Band-Aids that looked like crayons, and he wore them proudly for days.

2. Back-to-school time is prime season for anti-vaccine promotion.

3. Jenny McCarthy, a celebrity anti-vaccination campaigner, is a new host on “The View.”

4. Measles and whooping cough (pertussis) cases are on the rise.

5. There is no link between vaccinations and autism, and the one research paper that purported this was found to be completely fraudulent. But somehow misinformation persists.

We live in a privileged time, largely removed from the ravages of many infectious diseases because of vaccines and antibiotics. Smallpox, the disease that wiped out many Native American villages, has been eradicated. Polio is nearly gone. But it wasn’t so long ago that almost every family was affected.

My mother’s little sister, MaryLou, could have been Shirley Temple’s twin. She died at the age of 7 from complications of an infectious disease. You might still see an elderly person who walks with a limp due to a previous bout with polio. I have seen cases of deafness, meningitis and loss of fertility due to diseases now largely preventable with vaccines.

When Bill and Melinda Gates created their family foundation, they looked for ways to make the biggest impact on people’s lives. They chose vaccination programs in the developing world as one of their primary missions because it saves the most lives. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines save the lives of 3 million people every year and reduce suffering of millions more.

The Institute of Medicine isn’t shy about reporting medical safety concerns and is well known for its report on medical errors. They applied this same evidence-based method to vaccinations, and this year published a review of more than 1,000 research papers on vaccine safety and vaccine schedule. They uncovered no evidence for major safety concerns. You can get this free report online.

Everyone has the right to make choices about their health and their children’s health. And like all medicines and medical interventions there are risks associated with vaccinations. There is also risk playing on a sports team and going to camp. We need to think critically about risks and benefits, especially when our choices may impact the health of others.

Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a practicing pediatrician, mother and writer of the popular blog “Seattle Mama Doc,” writes, “The reason families who vaccinate are concerned about some children or community members not being vaccinated is that no vaccine is 100 percent effective – meaning not every vaccine provides protection for every person that gets it.

“Many children who are too young to get the shot (infants, for example) are also at risk if an unvaccinated person becomes infected/infectious,” Swanson continues. “Many are close, … but even my entirely up-to-date children with their shots are at risk if a child with pertussis walks into school.”

Some people think to live a holistic lifestyle you must completely renounce traditional medicine. It’s important to make more thoughtful choices about our food, environment, lifestyle and health care.

My thoughtful choice has led me to immunize my son, as it’s the best I can do to protect him personally and those he interacts with from many serious diseases.

Have a conversation with your family doctor or pediatrician. They truly have our best interests at heart. They are not part of a conspiracy. They have spent their lives helping people like us make thoughtful choices.

Online: Institute of Medicine report


Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at shesays@forumcomm.com.