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The level of vaccine-preventable diseases is at an
all time low in the United States. This is one of the most remarkable public
health success stories of our century. Still, concerns about immunizations have
been raised; they were again in a recent television show that linked hepatitis B
vaccine to a number of problems, including multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue
syndrome, and lupus erythematosis.
offer our perspective. The hepatitis B vaccine that our children receive is safe
and provides protection against serious and life-threatening liver diseases. One
in every 20 children born in Florida or California or Ohio would have developed
Hepatitis B during their life time if they had not received the vaccine. 5,000
deaths from Hep B can be averted each year when immunization is carried out.
Over one-third of people who contract hepatitis B develop chronic hepatitis and
liver cirrhosis. The Hepatitis B immunization is the only vaccine to prevent
cancer - hepatocellular carcinomas - by preventing this chronic carrier state.
Hepatitis B vaccine has been recommended as a routine infant vaccination since
1991, and as a routine adolescent vaccination since 1995.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central
nervous system characterized by the destruction of the covering around nerves.
MS is a progressive and usually fluctuating disease with exacerbations (patients
feeling worse) and remissions (patients feeling better) over many decades. The
cause of MS is unknown but the incidence of the illness has not increased after
the Hepatitis B vaccine was introduced. It is understandable that people who
develop multiple sclerosis want to know what caused their disease. However,
medical experts have carefully reviewed the literature and determined that there
is no scientific evidence that the hepatitis B vaccine causes multiple
sclerosis. Hepatitis B infection is not even a risk factor for developing this
chronic neurological disease.
Side effects from this vaccine are rare, and most
children do not any reaction at all. Mild, temporary fussiness and soreness are
usually the only side effect that may occur.
Before the hepatitis B vaccine became a routine
immunization, more than 300,000 people a year developed Hepatitis B infections
and more than 5,000 died of chronic hepatitis, liver cancer, liver failure, all
of which can be caused by chronic hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis B can be
transmitted several ways including (1) being passed from the mother to the
infant at the time of birth, (2) from infected people living with young
children, though they may not show signs of illness (3) sexually, and (4)
through contact with infected blood. Hepatitis B is 27 times more contagions
Vaccines protect us against diseases that just a
few years ago sent fear through the community: meningitis, polio, diphtheria,
congenital rubella, measles. As these illnesses fade from out memory, the
threats they pose to public health become less real, and there is growing
misconception that immunizations may cause more harm than good.
At the same time, anti-vaccine forces, fueled by
the media are focusing public attention on the perceived risks rather than the
enormous benefits from immunization. Unfortunately, the television media
sometimes gets duped ( or more likely is looking for higher ratings ) to present
this information as fact when it simply is not. Apparently the prevention of
disease is not as newsworthy to the media. The diseases are reported, but the
unsupported stories of alleged side effects to vaccines are aired on prime time.
Few of us can remember seeing a child with
measles or polio, but we are beginning to hear about adverse reactions to
vaccines that have nearly vanquished these illness in the United States. No
vaccine is perfect, but the benefits of immunization far outweight the risks.
Because they are not rare, it is easy to forget
that vaccine-preventable diseases can cause brain damage, liver cancer,
paralysis, and premature death. Vaccines are the primary reason there are so few
cases of these devastating childhood illnesses.
We hope that today’s parents will continue to
protect their youngsters against vaccine- preventable diseases.