A child was recently diagnosed with measles in Santa Clara. Given how contagious this virus is, a confirmed case in Santa Clara caused some alarm here in Mendocino County. The diseases that vaccines prevent can be devastating, even deadly. Before the measles vaccine, thousands of American children lost their hearing and/or had to live with neurological problems as a result of measles.
When there is no imminent threat of a vaccine-preventable disease anywhere near us, the issue of whether or not to vaccinate can be academic, but when potentially devastating diseases are close to home, and some parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children, we all become alarmed.
The arguments against vaccines are many, and they are persuasive with a small minority of people, enough people to endanger the whole community. They include the fear of serious side effects, including the much-debunked belief that vaccines cause autism, and the fear that vaccines contain harmful ingredients. Others argue that drug companies are in cahoots with the Food and Drug Administration and/or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and cannot be trusted, and that the diseases prevented by vaccines are either extinguished or not very harmful. Finally, some take a more philosophical approach, arguing that the government shouldn’t be involved in their medical choices, especially if they hold a religious belief against such intervention
Here are the facts. Vaccines save 2.5 million children from preventable diseases every year, according to United Nations’ partner Shot@Life. The CDC estimates that in the twenty years between 1994 and 2014, vaccines saved 732,000 American children from dying and 322 million from becoming ill. The measles vaccine alone has decreased childhood deaths by 74 percent.
Does this mean vaccines are perfect? No. But adverse reactions are extremely rare. According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN and practicing neurosurgeon, “You are 100 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine that protects you against measles.”
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is 97 percent effective, which means only 30 out of every 1000 people who are vaccinated will not be fully protected. However, if everyone is vaccinated, everyone benefits from “herd immunity.” Those 30 people are unlikely to come into contact with the virus, so they are safe, too. According to Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Gary Pace, to reach herd immunity for measles, approximately 93 percent of people must be vaccinated.
Vaccines are typically either free or simply the cost of a co-pay, and they can save a lot of misery and money down the line. Initial measles symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes or “pink eye” (conjunctivitis). Three days later, small white spots appear in the mouth. A few days after that, a rash with flat red spots on the face at the hairline develops and spreads downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. It’s miserable and potentially deadly for some. When children get the measles, they need a caregiver to stay home with them. That can mean missed paychecks. And if things go poorly, a trip to the emergency room isn’t cheap.
Be sure you are making decisions about your health and the health of your children based on fact, not fiction. Don’t let dramatic social media posts and anecdotal stories prevent you from safeguarding your family. The argument that someone gets a vaccine and then gets some medical condition does not mean the vaccine caused it.
Do your homework. Make the decision that’s best for your family. I hope you choose to vaccinate.
Superintendent of Schools