Vaccines save lives Imagine your child develops a high fever and difficulty breathing overnight. You bring her to the emergency room and she is diagnosed with epiglottitis, a life-threatening bacterial infection of the throat which requires immediate surgical intervention to maintain her airway. Unlike several generations ago, this illness is now rarely seen in young children due to the Haemophilus influenza Type B vaccine series.
Imagine your infant develops a cough and cold which, instead of resolving within a week, worsens into an ongoing cough spasm that no medication can stop, and puts him at risk of dying from stoppage of breathing. This is whooping cough. Vaccines have decreased the incidence of whooping cough, although immunity can wane and require booster doses.
Imagine yourself as a young man, within days of becoming ill with fever and diarrhea, awakening to find your legs weakened and paralyzed. Even with extensive rehabilitation, you will probably never walk again. You have polio. This was the lot of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a young New York politician. Imagine living in New York City in the early 1920s, when authorities nearly quarantined the entire city because of the polio epidemic. Thanks to the polio vaccine, these scenarios are history.
Imagine your baby had a one-in-ten chance of dying before her first birthday, mainly due to infections. This may sound like the Middle Ages, but a 10 percent infant mortality rate is documented in U.S. statistics from 1900. Many of these deaths were due to illnesses now preventable by vaccines.
Are we over-vaccinating? Keep in mind that only when a disease is completely wiped out can its vaccine be eliminated. When smallpox was eradicated, the smallpox vaccine, one of the greatest triumphs of public health, was discontinued. There was hope of the same for the polio vaccine, but polio remains endemic in parts of the world.
Let us celebrate what vaccines have accomplished for the health of ourselves, our families and society.
Fred Weck, MD Partners in Pediatrics
Central Valley, NY