Do not ignore immunizations

This is National Infant Immunization Week, and local and state officials are encouraging parents to protect their children from vaccine-preventable diseases.

In the past, immunization was nearly automatic.

Today, concerns with reports of possible side effects have made this topic much more controversial.

Allegations of vaccine injuries in recent decades have appeared in litigation in the U.S. Some families have won substantial awards from sympathetic juries, even though most public health officials say that the claims of injuries were unfounded.

Additionally, a 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield, a British former surgeon and medical researcher, originally published in The Lancet, presented evidence that the MMR Vaccine (an immunization against measles, mumps and rubella that is typically first administered to children shortly after their first birthday) was linked to the onset of autism spectrum disorders.

However, the article was widely criticized for lack of scientific thoroughness and was partially retracted in 2004 by Wakefield’s co-authors. The paper was fully retracted by The Lancet in 2010.

Still, some parents have been reluctant to bring their children in for their routine vaccinations.

As one might guess, there has been an increase in the number of cases of vaccine-preventable diseases.

In 2013, Michigan recorded five measles cases, the Michigan Department of Community Health reported.

While that may seem insignificant, it is the most cases in the state since 1999.

Additionally, new data show Michigan parents are among the most likely in the nation to elect not to vaccinate their kids against preventable, potentially deadly diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Michigan has the fourth highest non-medical exemption rate in the nation, with 5.3 percent of parents simply choosing not to immunize their children.

Only Michigan, Oregon, Vermont and Idaho have non-medical exemption rates over 5 percent.

“Childhood immunizations protect our children from dangerous infectious diseases like measles, mumps, whooping cough and more,” said Dr. Jennifer Dehlin, a physician at Marquette General Family Medicine and Treasurer of the Marquette-Alger County Medical Society. “Keeping vaccination rates up decreases the risk of outbreaks. This requires medical professionals to provide parents with information on the benefits of vaccination and dispel myths about some of the perceived harms.”

In addition to the state’s high rate of non-medical exemptions, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health, only 72 percent of Michigan children and 63 percent of adolescents are fully immunized – the rest missing at least one critical vaccination – leading to recent outbreaks of preventable diseases, like whooping cough, which have been increasing in Michigan in recent years.

There were nearly 1,000 cases of whooping cough in Michigan last year alone – up nearly 18 percent over 2012 – with many requiring hospitalization.

Because of their developing immune systems and exposure in settings like school and day care, children and infants are especially vulnerable to these diseases.

Infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated are not protected from many preventable diseases so it is vital to protect the entire family, especially school-aged children, through immunizations.

“Infants are at risk of many diseases simply because they are too young to get fully immunized, making it critical that parents, older siblings and all others in contact with the infant are immunized as well,” said Dr. David Luoma, F.A.A.F.P., a Marquette family physician and member of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians.

“Diseases like whooping cough can be especially dangerous in infants less than 6 months of age, who are at highest risk of severe illness, complications, and even death,” Dr. Luoma said. “Ensuring everyone receives the appropriate vaccinations will not only protect oneself, but will help to provide a ‘cocoon’ of safety around those who cannot protect themselves because of age or illness.”

CDC reports conclude that immunizations are safe and effective.

They are thoroughly tested before being approved, and public health officials continually monitor their safety and effectiveness.

Immunization is still one of the best ways to protect your child from preventable diseases.

If you’re skeptical, talk with your physician. Do not ignore the issue and hope that it will go away.

That is a prescription for disaster.