EDITORIAL: Kids need vaccines

Staff reports
In this file photo, Jonathan Zuniga, 5, of York City, is held by his mother Fabiola Mondragon, right, while being administered the hepatitis A vaccine by Debbie Stoops, R.N., at York City Health Bureau in York City, Monday, April 11, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Babies must sometimes think they've been mistaken for pincushions.

By the time a child reaches his first birthday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that he receive 25 shots to protect him from 10 different diseases and infections.

Those shots will protect him from everything from diphtheria to tetanus and chicken pox to influenza. The child and his parents won't have to go through the sleepless nights of high fevers and sickness or the potentially deadly complications from many formerly common childhood diseases. And the shots protect the rest of the community as well by creating a pool of people who are immune from diseases, making any infections less likely to spread.

Take measles, for instance. Before 1963, more than 500,000 cases of measles were reported every year, but estimates are that 3  to 4 million people had the disease each year, with about 500 deaths annually. About 30 percent of people who got measles had complications, ranging from diarrhea to pneumonia to acute encephalitis, according to the CDC. Babies and people who contracted the disease as adults were particularly susceptible to complications.


And then the vaccine came along. Within a few years, measles cases were down 95 percent, and an initiative was born to eliminate the disease in the United States by Oct. 1, 1982.  That goal wasn't met, but by 1983, 1,497 cases were reported, the lowest count by that time.

And then the disease came back. From 1989 through 1991, there was a resurgence of measles, with 27,786 cases reported in 1990, according to the CDC, nearly all of them blamed on low vaccine coverage. In 1991, Philadelphia had a measles outbreak centered on two religious groups that refused vaccines, according to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Six children in the groups and three from the surrounding community died.

Immunization baby shower to be held at Health Bureau

The pattern continues. The CDC reported 55 cases in 2012, 187 in 2013, then 667 in 2014, more than half of those linked to an outbreak in an unvaccinated Amish community in Ohio. Last year, an outbreak was linked to a traveler who visited an amusement park in California while infectious.

Despite the loud voices of anti-vaxxers — those against vaccinating children who have attempted to create an anti-vaccination movement — vaccines are proven to do good and not proven to cause new problems for children. As Dr. Karen Remley, executive director of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said last fall, "Claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been dis-proven by a robust body of medical literature. It is dangerous to public health to suggest otherwise."

It's unfortunate that that statement had to be made after a GOP presidential debate.

But cooler heads prevail at the York City Health Bureau, where 30 young mothers and mothers to be will learn about vaccines and also get gifts at a community baby shower on Wednesday, April 20.

The goal there is to not only protect individual children but also to protect the community by creating herd immunity, according to vaccines.gov.

Basically, when more people are immunized against an infectious disease, fewer people will become contagious, so even those who cannot be vaccinated because they are too young or have compromised immune systems because of cancer treatment or HIV remain disease free. That's how smallpox was eradicated in 1980, and that's how polio has been contained to the point that cases were only reported in Afghanistan and Pakistan last year, according to polioeradication.org.

But those huge steps in medical history can only take place if as many people as possible are immunized.

York City Health Bureau immunization coordinator Debra Stoops said she recently saw a young child at Hershey Medical Center suffering from pertussis, aka whooping cough, which can be prevented with a vaccine.

"It really brings it home when you see this tiny baby laying there, struggling to breathe because of whooping cough," Stoops said.