Month of the Military Child: To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the question
Levi Stevens, new son of Sgt. Joshua and Hollie Stevens, 664th Ordnance Company, 180th Transportation Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas, sleeps peacefully just seconds before getting a Hepatitis B vaccine on the day of his birth, April 14, 2011.

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Childhood immunizations may possibly be the worst part of becoming a new parent, and they are certainly the low point of all well-baby appointments, but most parents view them as a necessary evil.

But are they really necessary'

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Joseph Llanos, chief of Preventive Medicine at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center said "yes," immunizations are crucial for children.

"It really is important for people to get vaccines to prevent infection," Llanos explained. "Immunizations lower the risk of very serious illnesses like polio, invasive haemophilus influenza type b, and measles, and the vaccines are leading to the eradication of some of these major illnesses too."

Poliomyelitis, more commonly known as polio, is one of those eradicated illnesses.

It was the worst pandemic in American history with over 57,000 reported cases in the early 1950's. Polio attacked mostly children, killing more than 3,000 and leaving 21,000 others disabled or paralyzed.

Now polio is more of a distant nightmare than a true threat for Americans. It hasn't been seen in the Western Hemisphere at all since 1992, and in United States since 1979.

Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib), which was a leading cause of meningitis and pneumonia in children before a vaccination was implemented in the 1980's, is heading in the same direction as polio, Llanos said.

"Since routine vaccination began, the incidence of Hib disease has decreased by greater than 99 percent in children younger than five years old," he said.

Despite these well-known success stories, some vaccines still have a bad reputation -- especially the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine.

Certainly the possible secondary effects of measles alone, which include diarrhea, ear infections, blindness, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) or pneumonia are enough to send most parents running for the immunization clinic. Some parents, however, are still afraid to give their child the MMR vaccine because of speculation it may be connected to autism in young children.

Parents should not skip this important vaccine, Llanos said.

"An increased number of cases of autism in the 80's was thought to be linked to the MMR vaccine, but at this time there is no proven scientific evidence that links immunizations with any neuro-development abnormalities," he said.

Vaccines do have side effects, but for most they are minor and may include tenderness, swelling, redness, itching or bruising at the injection site or a low-grade fever, headaches or fatigue. More severe reactions like hives, seizures, breathing problems or loss of consciousness require immediate medical attention.

So the evidence shows that, like them or not, vaccines have played a major role in the development of an overall healthier and protected public.

Instead of dreading a stop at the immunization station after a well-baby appointment, parents might bring along medication to reduce fever for their child and medication to stop headaches for themselves. Vaccines may make for a long fitful night, but at least they shield children from deadly and debilitating illnesses.

Llanos encouraged parents who still have concerns to do their research, and if they still have questions, talk to their child's pediatrician.

"Parents should not fear vaccinations. (They are) a preventive measure," he said. "Parents need to be proactive."

Col. (Dr.) Mark Croley, chief of Pediatrics at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center agreed.

"If parents bring their children in for their well baby appointments, the primary care physician will make sure immunizations get taken care of," he said. "If parents have any questions we can address them."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16