Backpacks, hand wipes, glue sticks and No. 2 pencils: check. And while you’re busy stocking up on back-to-school supplies, there’s another list you’ll want to update as your kids head to the bus stop: their vaccination records.
In recent years, growing numbers of parents have opted to refuse vaccinations for their children. It’s a trend that Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Stephen Prescott, M.D., finds extremely troubling.
“There have been a lot of scientifically unfounded concerns about vaccines,” said Prescott, a physician and medical researcher. “But without a doubt, vaccines represent one of the two or three greatest advances in medicine. Ever.”
Diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, tetanus and other diseases have been largely wiped out thanks to inexpensive and effective vaccines, said Prescott.
For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, before the diphtheria vaccine, as many as 200,000 cases were reported in the U.S. each year. Compare that to today, where the U.S. has seen but a single case in the last decade.
“When you look back at the 1800s and the early part of the 1900s, it was very common for children to die at young ages, and there would be massive epidemics where people would die from these diseases by the thousands,” said OMRF’s Prescott. “That has basically gone away.”
Vaccines work by introducing a weakened or dead virus into the immune system. This stimulates the body’s immune response, creating antibodies that stand ready to fight any more potent version of the virus that might later attempt to enter the body.
A large number of vaccines are administered in the first 15 months of life, but several important ones follow throughout childhood. Prescott said Oklahoma has taken many important steps to ensure children are properly vaccinated, most notably requiring them for school attendance.
Other states, however, have allowed children to go to school even if their parents refused to have them vaccinated. The most notable example of this has been California, where celebrity-fueled fears about vaccine side effects—particularly autism—have caused some schools’ rates of immunization to dip below 50 percent.
“There is absolutely no credible science linking vaccination to autism,” said Prescott. “But there is clear evidence that the growing number of unvaccinated children is leading to a surge in dangerous, preventable illnesses, like the measles outbreak we saw at Disneyland last year.”
The loss of so-called “herd immunity” is also jeopardizing the health of children with compromised immune systems who are unable to be immunized.
“It’s a bit of a reflection of our culture when people believe a movie star or musician over a scientist or doctor who has studied vaccines for decades,” said Prescott. “But making the right choice for your child is easy.”
A little prick in the arm will go a long way to ensuring your child stays healthy, said Prescott. “Just be sure to have a lollipop and a hug ready when it’s all done.”