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As the number of childhood vaccines increases, so do concerns about their safety and necessity. Dr. Paul A. Offit offers a detailed account in his new book. Here's my summary of the myths parents must deal with:
1. Modern sanitation can prevent most childhood infections, so vaccinations are less important today. Diseases that can be prevented by vaccines are highly contagious, and we have greater population density and mobility than past generations had. Vaccines are more important than ever.
2. Alternate vaccination schedules may be better for the health of young children.
Babies are at risk for infectious disease very early, and should be vaccinated on the schedule recommended by your pediatrician. Alternate schedules in the popular literature have no scientific basis.
3. Diptheria and pertussis are scourges of the past.
In the 1970's, an anti-vaccine movement in England caused vaccination rates to drop to 31 percent. As a result, 5,000 children were hospitalized for pertussis (whooping cough), and 600 died.
4. Measles, mumps, and chickenpox are a normal part of childhood and present no serious risk.
Complications include encephalitis, loss of hearing, and death. Shingles is a long-term complication of chickenpox, and it remains a risk in my own future.
5. Polio is no longer a threat to Americans.
International travel is so common that any infection in the world is just one plane flight away.
6. The polio vaccine can still cause polio and paralysis in a few individuals.
This was true of the Sabin vaccine, which uses live but attenuated virus. It is no longer available in the United States. The current version is the Salk vaccine, which uses inactivated (“killed”) virus particles.
7. The mercury compound thimerosal causes autism.
Thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines in 2001, and the rate of autism diagnoses continued to increase.
8. The immune systems of babies can be overloaded with too many vaccinations.
Babies are exposed to trillions of germs from the moment they enter the birth canal. Vaccines provide a miniscule number of weakened pathogens.