FEATURE — Know anyone who has had small pox lately? How about polio? Diphtheria? Once global health threats of literally epidemic proportions, these and other diseases have largely been eradicated, due almost entirely to immunizations. Nationally, the basic childhood immunization series is commonly referred to as the 4:3:1:3:3:1 series: 4 DTaP, 3 Polio, 1 MMR, 3 Hib, 3 Hepatitis B, and 1 Chickenpox. The goal is for every child to be fully immunized at age 2.
According to the Utah Department of Health on its immunize Utah website, national childhood immunization coverage levels in 2011 revealed that 77 percent of the nation’s 2-year-old children received the 4:3:1:3:3:1 series, compared to 71.1 percent of Utah’s children.
Why aren’t more children immunized? Scott Newbold, an Intermountain Healthcare pediatrician, frequently answers questions from parents who have concerns about vaccinations.
“We are always weighing the risks and benefits of vaccines,” Newbold said. “We’re taking a calculated risk when we immunize children by giving them a part of a noxious agent. But we are giving them parts that will not cause the disease.”
And while immunizations can cause reactions like a mild fever and tenderness, the discomforts are far less concerning than the dangers of the full-fledged disease.
In fact, “a little fever is a sign that a child is having an adequate response to the vaccine,” Newbold said. “We want to make sure that vaccines are safe. They are studied rigorously before they go to market, and those studies are ongoing.”
Dr. Newbold points to the (VAERS), a national vaccine safety surveillance program co-sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration. Parents, guardians, and health care workers are encouraged to report any adverse reactions to vaccines via the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System website. Reports are collected and analyzed, and results are made public. An example of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System working is the rotavirus vaccine.
“Rotavirus is a gastrointestinal disease that can cause diarrhea and dehydration, especially in children,” Newbold said. “Millions of deaths, mostly now in third-world countries, are attributed to rotavirus. We had an extremely effective vaccine for rotavirus, but reports showed it may have caused an increased risk of intestinal illness. The vaccine was pulled, and we now have a new one that was studied rigorously. As we went back and looked at the data from the earlier vaccine, epidemiological studies showed that it was probably safe, but the system will err on the side of caution.”
It is recommended that families talk to their pediatrician or family practice doctor as they make choices about immunization.
“There is a lot of inaccurate information on the internet,” Newbold said. “As physicians, our job is to review all the data and medical literature so we can educate our patients about the pros and cons. I have seen an aerial photograph from 1962 of people waiting in a mile-long line on a hot summer day for the polio vaccine. They had seen the effects of that disease that most of us haven’t. I will sit with parents until all of their immunization questions are answered, no matter how long it takes. There is a reason we live longer now than any other generation before us. It is because of vaccines.”
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Dr. Scott Newbold is a pediatrician at the Cedar City Clinic, telephone 435-886-5500. Opinions stated in this feature are his own and may not reflect those of St. George News.
Ed. note: Views on immunization vary, full analysis of alternate views is beyond the scope of this feature.
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