Immunizations are one of the great successes of modern medicine and have led to a major decline in the prevalence and incidence of many infectious diseases. One example is the near-elimination of polio. In 1952, a few years before the introduction of the Salk vaccine, there were more than 50,000 cases of polio in the US, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths as well as 20,000 individuals (primarily young children) left with some degree of paralysis. Polio has now been eradicated in the US and most parts of the world.
Currently, it is recommended that children and adolescents in the US receive immunizations against approximately 15 infectious diseases. Some of these immunizations can be combined in a single injection, though some also require multiple doses over time. Despite the significant benefits offered by immunizations, some parents either neglect to get their childrens’ shots updated or refuse to have them vaccinated. Safety concerns have been raised in the past and have been addressed. Concerns about a mercury-containing preservative called thimerosal led to its removal from nearly all childhood vaccines. There have been claims that early childhood vaccines, particularly the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, can cause autism; these claims have been thoroughly evaluated and do not appear to be valid.
Exemptions to standard childhood vaccinations are allowed for medical or religious reasons. Some states also allow parents to exempt their children for philosophical objections to mandatory immunizations. It has been found that exemptions increase the risk of outbreaks of pertussis and other potentially serious diseases.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information on childhood and adult vaccines through its website (www.cdc.gov/vaccines/). Your child’s pediatrician can also assist with any questions about standard childhood immunizations.