It was never up for debate. Our son was going to be immunized. It was not because we were thinking of others – although protecting the people around us was a nice bonus. He was going to be immunized because we were selfish. We wanted to protect him from those terrible childhood diseases that we had either experienced, or had witnessed through others.
I am old enough to have attended grade school with a child who had polio. The boy wore shiny, silver-colored metal braces over his dark blue school uniform pants, and one of his shoes had an inch-tall platform. It was both disheartening and uplifting to watch him kick a soccer ball, but I am sure he did not care to be the cause of either emotion.
I am also old enough to have had both mumps – whose vaccine became available in 1967 – and rubella – whose immunization came to market in 1969. While I don’t recall much about the mumps, I do remember my mother smearing me with calamine lotion to ease rubella’s itch.
It is true that immunizations are neither 100% effective, nor 100% safe. We protect against the former through the fabled “herd effect” – if a vaccine didn’t take for your daughter, your son’s immunity protects her because he cannot pass the disease on to her. And as for the latter, danger is the sometimes a sad fact of life – nothing is 100% safe.
In spite of safety features such as seatbelts and airbags, approximately 1,000 children in the U.S. died in car accidents last year (based on historical figures). And a conservative estimate reveals that nearly 300 U.S. children either died or suffered significant injuries while riding a bicycle, and that was also just last year. But we continue to take car rides, and we feel proud when we finally take the training wheels off our kids’ bikes.
So if you have chosen not to vaccinate your children, I ask you to reconsider. It’s OK to change your mind, we do it all the time. Don’t deny your kids this success of modern medicine, just like you would not deny them antibiotics. Don’t do it for others. Act selfishly, just like my wife and I did. Immunize your children for the same reason you have them wear a seatbelt and put on a bicycle helmet.
Do it because you love them, and for nothing else.
Pedro Weisleder, MD, PhD, is an attending pediatric neurologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He is Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Director of the Pediatric Neurology Residency Program at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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