Friday, December 2, 2011

Pediatric Controversies: Immunizations 3/3

I'm concluding my three part series on one area of pediatrics that causes a lot of controversy. Immunizations.

Why don't people choose to immunize their children? I would say a large majority of these parents would claim a concern about Thimerisol (covered in Part One) and the much talked about but unsupported risk that there is a link between autism and the MMR vaccine (covered in Part Two). This link is not supported by the medical research.

Some people choose not to vaccinate because they're possibly suspicious of western medicine or in general prefer herbal or homeopathic remedies. 

Another reason? I think it's because we largely don't see children suffering or dying from these illnesses that we vaccinate against. People who lived during times when polio was a known affliction in the US probably had a different opinion about vaccinating against polio.

 An interesting thing happened early in the fall of 2009. H1N1, otherwise known as the "swine flu" made an outbreak. It affected a large number of people but the pediatric population, particularly late elementary through early high school, had some very serious complications. Several children nationally required mechanical ventilation (a breathing machine) to save their life. Several children died.

There is a vaccine for H1N1. In fact, it's been included in the regular flu vaccine this year and last year. However, in 2009, distribution came a few months after the outbreak. The interesting part? It was scarce because so many people wanted it for themselves and their children. They didn't want them to die from the swine flu. Most people don't see children ill or dying of the diseases we routinely vaccinate against. The immediacy of the experience is lost.

If you have chosen not to immunize, I hope you've taken the time to research the diseases and their complications. Choosing not to immunize is a risk as well. How does this play out in fiction?

Let's say a 6 month old child presents to the ED with high fever and a rash and has never been immunized. Now, we as the ER staff have to worry about all those diseases the child is not protected against. This may set the child up for additional lab tests and procedures. Parents aren't generally happy when we explain why we have to add these other tests. This is an excellent way to add conflict.

What are your thoughts about immunizations? I'm happy to post any dissenting, well-articulated opinion in the comments section. No derogatory remarks please. I know this issue has a lot of passion on both sides.


  1. Jordyn, Thanks for these posts. As a practicing physician for 35 years and the father of three, I never had any qualms about immunizations for my children and recommending others do the same. The science is there to substantiate the good they do, while many of the fears people have their basis in anecdotal information.

  2. Jordyn,
    On a similar issue, I read a story about a legal battle initiated by doctor to force a family to continue a regimen of dangerous, pediatrically-unapproved chemotherapy drugs even after their 8 year old son's PET scan showed no evidence of cancer.

    Clearly, these parental rights vs medical establishment issues are not going to resolve neatly any time soon and are great seeds for fiction.

  3. Jordyn,
    That people are not immunizing their children breaks my heart. I remember taking the first polio vaccine. That people were living in iron lungs had scared me--I was too young to make the connection. As an adult, I realized those awful machines (which also have been modernized) have vanished. Why would anyone want their child to have polio? Be sterile from mumps? Die from complications of diseases that haven't plagued the US in years.
    Recently a local college had to close for a span of time because of mumps outbreaks.
    Oh, I'm preaching to the choir!

  4. Thanks, Richard. Paula, I'm am going right now to check that story. Sounds very interesting. Carol, amen, sister.

  5. Thanks for a great post. We need more health care providers speaking out publicly on the benefits of vaccines. There is too much misinformation out there.