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Infants and children are vulnerable to many preventable diseases, and not only in developing countries. Immunization can make a huge difference in bringing infant and child mortality under control in both the developing and the developed worlds, but significant obstacles stand in the way.
Vaccines versus the “anti-vaxxers”
In 2012 the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 100% immunization and 100% efficacy of the vaccines could prevent one out of seven deaths in young children – mostly in developing countries. WHO further found that worldwide, four diseases were responsible for 98% of vaccine-preventable deaths: measles, Haemophilus influenzae serotype b (Hib) meningitis, pertussis, and neonatal tetanus. According to a more recent report from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, of the top 10 causes of death in those less than 5 years old, several are contagious, meaning they can be transmitted from one person to another.
It’s not just the developing world that is faced with the problem of preventable childhood diseases and deaths. In recent years the anti-vaccination movement, led by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, has exerted significant influence, prompting many parents to eschew routine vaccinations. Although the “anti-vaxxers’” strongest claims against vaccines have been pretty thoroughly debunked, many parents continue to refuse to vaccinate their kids. No doubt most are motivated by genuine concerns for their children’s health, fearing that vaccines cause autism and/or that mercury or other additives in some vaccines will harm their kids. Growing numbers of parents are also guided by principles of individual sovereignty, declaring that they are not going to let the government or other authorities dictate how they raise their kids.
In the U.S., vaccination requirements vary by state or even by school district, so many parents are obligated to vaccinate their children if they want to send them to public schools. Even so, millions of parents, including many who have opted for home schooling, are managing to skip the routine childhood vaccinations. It’s no coincidence that some childhood diseases that had been all but conquered in the developed world are making a strong comeback. Measles and mumps, for instance, are “smothering the UK,” and are popping up all over the US.
And it’s not just kids who are getting sick.
Here are 5 of the most common vaccine-preventable childhood diseases
1. Measles. This highly contagious illness is caused by a virus. The usual symptoms are a combination of rash, fevers, cough and runny nose, as well as spots in the mouth. Although most patients recover after a very uncomfortable illness, about one in 1,000 will develop inflammation of the brain. In the US, one to three cases per 1000 in the United States result in death. This disease is making a comeback in the US and other developed countries (see links above).
2. Haemophilus influenzae serotype b (Hib). This is a serious disease caused by bacteria, usually striking children under five years old. Before the Hib vaccine became available in December 1987, Hib was the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in US infants and children; there were approximately 20,000 invasive Hib cases annually. About two-thirds of those cases were meningitis, and one-third were other life-threatening invasive Hib diseases such as bacteria in the blood, pneumonia, or inflammation of the epiglottis. Hib meningitis once killed 600 children in the US each year and left many survivors with deafness, seizures, or mental retardation. With the introduction of the Hib vaccine, the incidence of Hib has declined by 98 percent in the US, though it remains a problem elsewhere in the world.
3. Pertussis. Also known as whooping cough, this highly contagious and potentially fatal disease hits newborns particularly hard. It was all but eradicated in the US but began making a big comeback a few years ago.
4. Tetanus. The dreaded “lockjaw” is a severe and often fatal disease (approximately 20 percent of reported cases result in death). It is caused by bacteria that are very widely distributed in soil and street dust, are found in the waste of many animals, and are very resistant to heat and germ-killing cleaners. Victims can suffer from stiffness and spasms of the muscles, and the larynx (throat) can close, which causes breathing and eating difficulties. Muscle spasms can even cause fractures of the spine and long bones; some people go into a coma and die. Tetanus usually strikes adults who haven’t been properly immunized but is increasingly affecting unvaccinated children. And worldwide, tetanus in newborn infants continues to be a huge problem, annually killing 300,000 newborns and 30,000 birth mothers who were not properly vaccinated.
5. Polio. People growing up in the 1940s and the 1950s remember the polio scare, and the disturbing pictures of children in “iron lungs.” Poliovirus infection causes acute paralysis that can lead to permanent physical disability and even death. Before polio vaccine was available, 13,000 to 20,000 cases of paralytic polio were reported each year in the United States alone, and there were annual epidemics of polio that often left victims – mostly children – crippled or paralyzed. Many survivors experienced serious lifelong consequences from the disease. The polio vaccine all but eliminated this risk in developed countries, though it has remained a problem in parts of the developing world. Now there are disturbing signs that polio might be making a comeback, even in the US. there are disturbing signs that polio might be making a comeback, even in the US.
Of course the anti-vaxxers aren’t to blame for the occurrence and comeback of preventable childhood diseases; longstanding geopolitical and logistical factors have also contributed. But the ant-vaxxers aren’t doing anything to help, and as cited above, there is credible evidence that they have helped make the problem worse.
This isn’t to say that vaccines are perfect or that they don’t occasionally cause serious adverse effects, even death. These occurrences should be taken seriously. Vaccine manufacturers must be held accountable for safety lapses and negligence, and children need to be evaluated on an individual basis and monitored closely to ensure that they don’t suffer adverse reactions from vaccines. But it is safe to say that nationwide and worldwide, vaccines prevent many more illnesses and deaths than they cause.
For more information:
• Centers for Disease Control (CDC) parents’ guide to vaccines: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/parents-guide/downloads/parents-guide-part1.pdf
• More from the CDC: What would happen if we stopped vaccinating: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm
• UNICEF: http://www.unicefusa.org/work/immunization/
Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post. She is a writer from https://arrestrecords.com/and you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.