By Olivia Turansky, Pharmacy Resident, BHMC-North Little Rock
It’s that wonderful time of year again, the time of year when your children have headed back to school and you no longer have to pay outrageous daycare bills or worry about who is going to watch them next week.
When getting your child ready to go back to school, it usually involves getting their backpack organized with all their new school supplies and, most importantly, making sure they are up to date on all of their immunizations.
One of the most important things a parent can do to protect their child’s health is getting them vaccinated because diseases can spread quickly among groups of children who are not vaccinated due to poor hand washing and not covering their coughs.
Whether your child is just starting out at a daycare, a student heading back to elementary, middle, or high school, or even a college student, it is important to check your child’s vaccination records.
Children who are not vaccinated are at an increased risk for disease, and it is easy for that illness to spread to others including babies who are too young to be fully vaccinated and others with a weak immune system due to cancer or other medical conditions.
Parents should check with their child’s school or local health department about the requirements in their state because some states may require that children be caught up on some of their vaccinations before they begin school. Following the recommended immunization schedule from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides protection from serious and deadly diseases.
Vaccines contain the same germs that cause disease, but the germs have either been killed or weakened so that they won’t make you sick. Before vaccines, a person would only develop immunity if they caught the disease. Vaccines are able to stimulate your immune system to produce antibodies and develop immunity without having to catch the disease first. Vaccines are so powerful because they prevent a disease by giving you immunity without first having to get sick rather than treating or curing a disease.
It’s true that some diseases such as polio are becoming very rare in the United States, but they are becoming rare because of the vaccinations that have been given to prevent them. It might cross your mind to think if it is worthwhile to continue vaccinating against a disease that is almost eradicated, but think of it like a sinking rowboat filled with water. When the boat was filled with water we started using buckets to empty the water and through hard work we were able to make the boat almost completely dry.
Now just because the boat is almost dry doesn’t mean we can throw away our bucket because the boat is still leaking, and if you stop bailing out water then the boat will be full of water again.
Even if there are only a few cases of a disease today, it could easily start spreading if we took away the protection that has been given by immunizations and all the progress that we have accomplished over the years will vanish.
If we stopped vaccinating today, diseases that we have not seen in decades will come back and cause epidemics that would lead to unnecessary sickness and death in children.
In 1974, Japan had a successful pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination program with nearly 80 percent of Japanese children being vaccinated. In 1974, only 393 cases of pertussis were reported in the entire country, and there were no deaths from whooping cough.
The next year rumors began to spread that the pertussis vaccine was not safe and no longer needed. By 1976, only 10 percent of babies were getting vaccinated. In 1979, Japan suffered a major pertussis epidemic with more than 13,000 cases of whooping cough and 41 deaths. In 1981, the Japanese government began vaccinating again with a pertussis vaccine, and the number of pertussis cases dropped again.
Vaccinations are not just used to protect our children, but also protect our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Smallpox is a disease that was eradicated, and we were able to “plug the leak” in the boat. Our children no longer have to get smallpox vaccines because the disease no longer exists.
If parents continue to vaccinate their children now, then parents in the future may be able to trust that diseases such as polio or meningitis will not cripple or kill their children. Vaccinations are one of the best ways to put an end to the serious side effects of certain diseases.