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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices

Do Not Become Complacent About Immunizations

One of modern medicine’s great success stories is the successful vaccination of our children against infectious diseases. Ironically, the near elimination of these health problems has lead many in this country to become complacent about immunizations.

This was not always the case. In the early 1950s, all parents were familiar with the devastations of polio when annually 25,000 or more victims ended up with braces, crutches, wheelchairs or in iron lungs. I vividly remember my mother waking my sister and me up early one Saturday morning so we could be the first in line to receive the new polio vaccine applied to a sugar cube. Similarly, the thought of a child choking from an obstruction to breathing caused by diphtheria is well remembered by grandparents during that same era.

In the last few years a case of measles is increasingly rare. The pneumonia, diarrhea and ear infections that occurred during a measles epidemic disappeared, as well as measles encephalitis (infection of the brain) that claimed one in 1,000 children with measles. Those who survived were unfortunately scarred by defects ranging from severe mental retardation to paralysis and seizures.

In the 1960s, a typical year had more than 25,000 infants born with major malformations including deafness, blindness, congenital heart disease and mental retardation all due to rubella virus infecting their pregnant mothers. Once again a disorder of that magnitude has nearly disappeared thanks to effective rubella virus vaccines.

Parents of today have never seen the toll of these diseases because of the successful implementation of our vaccine programs. More recently parents may have been aware of meningitis, most often seen in a child younger than 18 months due to an organism called Haemophilus influenzae type B. Development and widespread use of a vaccine to prevent this aggressive infection have reduced the 20,000 cases of meningitis that occurred each year to only a few hundred cases.

Many of today's young physicians are unfamiliar with these vaccine preventable diseases. When I was in training more than 30 years ago, measles, meningitis, epiglottitis (narrowing of the vocal cords), and congenital rubella patients crowded the floors of our hospital. Today a child with one of these medical problems is a very rare event indeed.

These bacteria and viruses that cause these diseases have not disappeared. The remarkable effects of the vaccines developed to prevent them have only pushed them into hiding. If parents stop immunizing their children, we could see results similar to those experienced when populations of inner-city children, who had not received the measles vaccine, suffered a deadly outbreak of more than 50,000 cases which included all the dreaded complications mentioned above plus 125 tragic and needless deaths.

Your child’s doctor, along with scientists and the government, continues to work together in the effort to produce vaccines that are safer and effective. Unfortunately, some of today’s parents are reluctant to have their children immunized. They worry about a possible reaction to the vaccine after reading or listening to misleading, and often exaggerated misinformation in the media. They fail to think of the alternative, which would be a return to the days when parents lived in fear that their child would catch one of these serious diseases. There is so much in life that is not preventable. Protect your child where you can. Vaccinate them!

Information for this article was obtained from The Immunization Action Coalition, a nonprofit organization that works to increase immunization rates and prevent disease. The Coalition promotes physician, community and family awareness of appropriate immunizations of all people of all ages against all vaccine-preventable diseases. For more information, contact them at 1573 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55104 or visit them on their web site at


As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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