In some of the Los Angeles neighborhoods with a reputation for being health and fitness conscious, a scary but preventable disease has begun affecting young children at abnormally high rates. The disease, pertussis, also known as whooping cough, used to kill thousands of children and infants each year in the first half of the twentieth century but was considered nearly eradicated in the U.S. until recently, when cases of whooping cough swept over elementary schools from Malibu and Beverly Hills to Marina del Rey. The cause: parents failing to vaccinate young children against the life-threatening disease.
According to a recent investigation, in some Westside schools, as many as 60 to 70 percent of parents have turned in paperwork indicating their abstention from vaccinating their children, a self-imposed exemption allowed by law. These schools have a vaccination rate that dips as low as the levels in Chad or South Sudan -- where poverty, not personal preference, limits parents' access to lifesaving vaccines.
Parents' choosing to opt their children out of vaccinations does not just endanger the lives of their own children but of the community at large. Studies show that 92 to 94 percent of a population must be vaccinated to protect against outbreaks. The average rate of immunization exemption in Santa Monica and Malibu is 15 percent.
As a result, Los Angeles County has seen a resurgence of whooping cough and a higher level of measles cases among school-aged children.
Parents that opt their children out of vaccinations may have succumbed to unproven anxieties over the ingredients and side-effects of vaccinations. Others may have bought into the discredited theory that immunizations can cause autism. (A 2004 scientific review produced by the Institute of Medicine and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wholly rejects any causal relationship between vaccinations and autism.)
In the Parents Action for Children video, Your Healthy Baby, we discuss the facts on giving your child all of the resources for a healthy life and the importance of visiting a doctor with your child. To give our kids the best possible foundation for a healthy life, we need to listen to the best available advice -- that of a medical professional, your doctor.
Many medical and health associations, including the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization, strongly support safe vaccinations, such as those that protect against whooping cough and measles.
Here's why you should take note and talk to your pediatrician about vaccinating your child:
· Vaccinations save lives. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that over 732,000 American children were saved from terminal diseases between 1994 and 2004 due to immunization. Childhood fatalities from measles, for instance, were reduced by 74 percent as a result of measles vaccinations.
· Vaccinations work through "herd immunization." When a significant portion of the population is vaccinated against a contagious disease, the risk of outbreak reduced drastically, protecting the community at large.
· Adverse side effects are very rare. The FDA requires up to 10 or more years of testing for all vaccines before they are licensed. More common side effects, such as a sore arm or mild fever, are minor and temporary and can be controlled by taking acetaminophen before or after the vaccination. More serious reactions occur extremely rarely (on the order of one per thousands or one per millions of vaccinations), according to the CDC.
· Immunizations will save you time and money. Having your child vaccinated will cost less than treating your sick child, factoring in the cost of time off of work to care for a sick child, potential long-term disability care, and medical costs.
· Diseases preventable by vaccine still pose a serious threat if vaccination rates drop too low. Although increasingly rare (due to high rates of vaccinations), diseases such as whooping cough and measles still threaten your child, especially in populated areas. In Japan in 1976, vaccination rates against whooping cough dropped to the dangerously low level of 10 percent, which precipitated an outbreak that claimed 41 lives.
We owe our children the healthiest start to life, and this obligation includes heeding the sound advice of medical professionals in making critical health decisions for our families.