This week’s story of a boy on Long Island with bacterial meningitis who required ICU care brought out raw emotions in all of us. We can’t help but empathize with the family, and think “what if this was my child?” The important take-away message is that certain infections are very serious and prevention is the best course of action, and that means vaccines.
Pediatricians are vaccine experts and most of us consider it our mission to protect your child by vaccinating him or her. We get frustrated when we need to convince parents of the need to vaccinate their children. In part, this is due to the effectiveness of vaccines in eliminating many life-threatening diseases. Unfortunately, if enough parents decide not to vaccinate their children, many of the diseases of the past will become all too real a part of our children’s futures.
Diseases which used to strike fear in the hearts of parents and pediatricians have all been virtually eliminated by vaccines.
Measles was virtually unseen in the United States for many years until a Disney World outbreak in 2014. This deadly disease is a major problem worldwide, killing over 700,000 children per year. There is a current outbreak of over 50 cases of measles in Missouri due to fear of vaccines.
Polio infected nearly 60,000 children, causing more than 3,000 deaths in the United States, at the height of the 1952 epidemic. Since the polio vaccine was introduced, polio has been completely eliminated in North America.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, has seen a resurgence due to a decrease in vaccination rates. The pertussis bacteria produce weeks of coughing spasms that cannot be cured with an antibiotic. In infants, pertussis can lead to death.
Haemophilus Influenza B was the most common cause of meningitis and epiglottis in young children before the HIB vaccine came out in1983. The HIB vaccine has decreased invasive Haemophilus disease by over 95% and saved the lives of thousands of children.
Pneumoccocus is a very common cause of meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis (an infection of the blood and organs.) Since the introduction of the Prevnar vaccine in 2000, rates of serious pneumococcal disease have decreased 80%.
Meningococcus causes meningitis in infants and adolescents. The Menactra vaccine, which contains 4 strains of this organism, is so effective in preventing disease that New York State requires students be vaccinated before 7th and 12th grades. Many colleges are now requiring all students be vaccinated. A fifth strain, MenB for short, has emerged on college campuses in the last few years. A vaccine for Men B was approved for use in the United States about 2 years ago. There is no recommendation for routine use of this vaccine. Your pediatrician will be happy to discuss these recommendations and why you should or should not need the vaccine.
Human Papilloma Virus, commonly acquired during the teenage and college years is inextricably linked to cervical cancer. HPV vaccine has been available in the U.S. for over 10 years. In addition to preventing the strains of HPV associated with cancer, it also prevents the strains associated with genital warts.
Your pediatrician is your best source of vaccine information. Talk to your pediatrician about the vaccines that are available and make sure your child is safely protected against all vaccine preventable illnesses.