Immunization Debate—Good Medicine or Risky Prescription?

January 2016 View more

It has been one year since reports of measles outbreaks hit the headlines across the country. The disease was confirmed in 48 children who had visited Disneyland in California. By January of 2015, 85 cases had been reported in seven Western states. The return of this previously contained childhood illness was a shock. Children are routinely vaccinated for this and other illnesses, so how could it be back? The truth is that while most parents do immunize and thus safeguard their children, some have decided the risks are too great.

Parental Concerns

The main reason why some parents choose not to vaccinate is because of reports that the MMR vaccine causes autism. Concerns about a possible link between vaccination with MMR and autism were raised in the late 1990s, following the publication of studies claiming an association between natural and vaccine strains of measles virus and inflammatory bowel diseases, and separately, MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism.

Even though these reports have been repudiated, some parents are still concerned. Health professionals continue to stress that vaccinations are safe, recommending that if parents have any concerns they should speak to their doctors about it rather than rely on hearsay or information they find on the Internet.

Immunization Policy

The DuPage County Health Department strongly encourages parents to follow their immunization policy.

“Since unvaccinated persons are at much greater risk for contracting a vaccine-preventable disease, they also increase risk of exposing and spreading disease to those around them, particularly in group settings such as schools,” said Dr. Rashmi Chugh, DuPage County Health Department Medical Officer. “Unvaccinated people tend to cluster and put communities at risk for outbreaks of diseases like measles. Vaccines work best when most members of a community are vaccinated—the more people who are vaccinated, the lower the possible risk of anyone’s exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases.”

The last measles outbreak in DuPage County was reported in 2008, but Cook County reported a measles outbreak in 2015 among daycare center attendees, particularly infants too young to be vaccinated.

“If parents choose to delay some vaccines, or reject some vaccines entirely, there can be risks to their child, their family, and others in their community,” said Dr. Chugh. “Vaccination is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children, and teens from 16 potentially harmful diseases. Vaccine-preventable diseases can be very serious, may require hospitalization, or even be deadly—especially in infants and young children,” added Dr. Chugh.

The majority of parents in DuPage County are opting to follow the recommended vaccination program.

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) immunization status data for DuPage County students in grades K-12 in public and non-public schools during the 2014–15 school year shows that less than two percent of students were unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. The diseases unvaccinated students are unprotected against include measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, varicella (chickenpox), and hepatitis B.

According to pediatrician Dr. Anne Schneider of Edward Medical Group, most fear among Naperville-area parents is bred by hearsay and unsubstantiated reports on the Internet.

“I tell parents we have a luxury that they didn’t have 100 years ago when children were dying of illnesses,” said Dr. Schneider.

NMAG0116_Immunizations_iStock_000019482230_Large_800pxThe Big Picture

Dr. Schneider believes while parents have the right to decide what’s best for their children, they also need to see the bigger picture.

“Parents should honor the fact we are living in a large community and we have a responsibility for the larger community as a whole,” she said. “By keeping our own children safe, we are keeping others safe too. Parents have every right to ask questions but it’s important to find accurate information. Talk to your own doctor.”

Dr. Schneider said it’s too easy to forget about the millions of children who are vaccinated every year and never experience any health related problems.

She says she has not seen any increase in parents refusing vaccinations nor a rise in childhood diseases like measles. However, that’s not to say parents aren’t thinking carefully before starting a recommended vaccination plan.

“Some prefer a modified vaccination schedule. They are having all the shots but just spacing them out differently,”

Dr. Schneider explained. “They’re concerned not so much about the vaccine itself, but preservatives that they have read might be dangerous.”

However, Dr. Schneider does have concerns about what she describes as herd immunity.
“The idea is as long as you surround your children with others who are vaccinated your children don’t need to be vaccinated, but we do not recommend that. What if everyone decided to do that?”

hpv concerns

Although parents are opting for the recommended immunizations, there is some resistance to a newer vaccination for children entering puberty. HPV protects children against the virus that causes sexually transmitted diseases like genital warts but more importantly cervical cancer.

“It is recommended for girls and boys starting at 11 or 12 years of age because it gives children time to build up an immunity,” said Dr. Schneider. “Some parents think if they have their children vaccinated it is giving them permission to have sex.”

Recommended Child Immunizations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends the following childhood immunization schedule:

Up to three months:
Hepatitis B.

From two months:
Rotavirus, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcus and polio.

From six months:
Begin annual influenza vaccination.

From 12 months:
Mumps, measles and rubella (MMR), Varicella, Hepatitis A.

Four to six years:
Tetanus, polio, MMR, chicken pox.

Seven to 10 years:
Tetanus, Meningococcal disease.

11–12 years:
Tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine (MCV4)

13–18 years:
Tetanus, Meningococcal disease, HPV and MCV4.

For more information about childhood vaccinations and the recommended immunization schedule, visit