In recent years, some parents have been following a dangerous trend to not vaccinate their children against preventable diseases such as polio, measles and whooping cough.
Fortunately, the vast majority of school-age children in Oregon — 93.9 percent, according to most recent figures — have received all required shots against 11 infectious diseases. Still, that means that close to 37,000 Oregon children and teens may not be fully protected.
Consider another infectious disease, influenza (flu). The percentage of American adults who receive a flu shot is around 41 percent, which means that tens of millions of U.S. adults are not protected against the flu.
The decision to not vaccinate puts individuals, families and the community at risk for serious, even deadly, complications from diseases that can spread easily from one to another.
So, why would someone choose to not get a shot? Kevin Wherry, MD, an internal medicine physician at Samaritan Lincoln City Medical Center, said some reasons may include not fully understanding how vaccines work, fearing that vaccines do more harm than good, the cost involved, potential inconvenience, religious objections and medical exemptions.
“It is also scary seeing your child injected with needles. However, without exception, the diseases are scarier,” Dr. Wherry said.
Another common belief is that previous generations had these diseases and people did fine.
“Everyone who survived and grew up without complications did, indeed, do fine,” Dr. Wherry said. “Unfortunately, this is called survival bias as the people who died, or were permanently disabled, cannot contradict those statements.”
Medical experts believe the benefits of vaccinations — which can save lives and reduce illness — far outweigh possible drawbacks. Adverse side effects are very rare and vaccines are thoroughly tested before they are licensed. Also, despite what some people believe, you cannot get the flu from a flu shot.
As for the cost, vaccinations are far less expensive than treating a sick child, taking time off from work and possibly dealing with long-term disability or death. For those who cannot afford the cost of going to the doctor for vaccinations, free and low-cost options are available. You may determine your eligibility through the federal Vaccines for Children Program or your local county health department.
Although Oregon requires students in public and private schools to be vaccinated, some students are relieved of the requirement based on religious belief, philosophical belief or medical exemption. Medical exemptions are allowed when students are allergic to any of the vaccine ingredients such as eggs or if they previously have had the disease and can’t catch it again.
In 2013, Oregon passed a law to strengthen regulations for claiming a nonmedical exemption. Now, all nonmedical exemptions require a parent to be educated about the benefits and risks of immunization. They must provide documentation showing they have been informed by a health care provider or that they watched an online presentation at healthoregon.org/VaccineExemption.
Children who are not up-to-date on their immunizations by Feb. 21, 2018, will be excluded from school until their immunizations are current.
Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City produced a document that gives examples of a few of these vaccine-preventable diseases with pictures and descriptions.
“It can be very eye opening for patients and families to read,” Dr. Wherry said.
You can download a free copy at childrensmercy.org/Brookes-Book.