A full dose of facts on vaccinations

August 15, 2014

By Sarah Matches, DO, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

It’s become easy for us to forget the horrors of a disease such as polio, which as recently as the 1950s crippled about 35,000 Americans each year. Today, there is no naturally occurring polio anywhere in the United States.

This public health victory, like so many others, was won with smart science – and a successful vaccination program.

That’s why it’s so frustrating – for pediatricians, public health experts and parents – to learn about the resurgence in Texas of measles and whooping cough, two diseases that effective vaccination programs have virtually eliminated from our society. These recent local outbreaks of preventable diseases should serve as a wake-up call for you and your children to get vaccinated.

To battle this complacency, we still need a full dosage of facts.

Vaccines are a means of teaching our bodies to recognize specific bacteria or viruses and develop an appropriate immune response. I tell patients that a vaccine is akin to an FBI file that gives your immune system enough information to know what to look for. As time passes, that file gets outdated; that’s when a booster shot is needed.

Health Fair

UNT Health Science Center will offer back-to-school vaccines at no cost to families

Where: Morningside Middle School, 751 Misissippi Ave.

When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

I’m often asked about the right immunization schedule, about the presence of mercury in preservatives found in vaccines and, most commonly, whether there is a link between vaccines and autism. (There isn’t one. This has been disproven by major medical groups and dozens of studies, and retracted by the journal that originally published it.)

You should certainly consult your child’s pediatrician about any concerns. But the simple truth about vaccines is that their success in protecting children from 14 serious diseases is one of the top achievements in the history of public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has the safest and most effective supply of vaccines in its history.

Within the medical community, there is no doubt about the importance of vaccinations. They’ve been used to defeat smallpox and dramatically decrease the incidence of polio, diphtheria, tetanus and, yes, measles and whooping cough.

Vaccines are the reason we rarely see such diseases anymore. Let’s do our part to keep it that way.

A version of this column originally appeared in the Star-Telegram.

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