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Childhood immunization: risks and responsibilities



By Erin A. Bills, MPH for the Big Sky Weekly

Childhood vaccines protect from
a number of serious and possibly
fatal diseases such as measles, tetanus,
polio, diphtheria, and pertussis
(whooping cough). If you haven’t
heard of these diseases or don’t
consider them a risk, it’s because
immunization programs work.
Recent epidemiological studies
have ranked Montana’s immunization
rate as the lowest in the United
States.* Why should we be concerned
about this rank if the risk of
disease seems low?

According to the Center for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC),
the discovery of
vaccines has had
a great impact
on health saving
millions of lives
annually. Vaccines
are meticulously
and side effects
are monitored
both before and
after FDA approval
vaccine safety.

Technological advancement has also
improved the efficacy of recommended
childhood vaccines. As
with any treatment, vaccines can
cause side effects, but it’s important
to remember that vaccines are much
safer than the diseases they prevent.

A common fear in recent years is
the idea that vaccines like measles,
mumps, and rubella (MMR), may
be linked to autism. The original
study has been retracted citing
biased reporting by the study’s
primary investigator. There is no
evidence-based connection between
vaccines and autism.

Another concern is that vaccines
contain mercury. Until 1999,
thimerosal—a mercury-containing
preservative—was used in vaccines.
As of 2001, thimerosal is no longer
used in recommended childhood
vaccines with the exception of
multi-dose influenza vaccine that
contains trace amounts of thimerosal.
Single dose and live-attenuated
(nasal spray vaccine) versions of the
influenza vaccine do not contain

When we don’t immunize, preventable
diseases reappear. In
2010 several states have reported
an increased number of cases and
outbreaks of pertussis (whooping
cough), a highly contagious and
sometimes fatal respiratory disease.
Infants are extremely vulnerable to
this disease. In Montana, pertussis
cases doubled in 2010 compared to

Choosing to not immunize certainly
comes with its own risks and
responsibilities. A natural polio
infection could lead to paralysis or
a natural measles infection could
lead to deafness. These are vaccine
preventable diseases.

If you choose not to vaccinate your
child, it is important to know risks
and responsibilities associated with
this decision outlined by the CDC.

Informing medical
that your child
is not vaccinated
can help with accurate
and treatment.
The child’s
school, childcare
facility, and any
other caregivers
should be
informed of your
decision to not
immunize as well. In the event
that your child catches a vaccine
preventable disease or an outbreak
is occurring, you may be required
to remove your child from school
or other activities. Furthermore,
travel to areas of the world where
vaccine preventable diseases are
highly endemic is risky for an unvaccinated

In May of this year, the CDC reported
the largest measles outbreak in
15 years. 89 percent of the
cases reported were unvaccinated.
Childhood immunization programs
are designed to prevent disease
and maintain a healthy population.
Choosing not to vaccinate puts not
only your child, but others at risk of
vaccine preventable diseases. Before
making any final decision whether
or not to vaccinate, please consult
with your primary care physician or

*Epidemiological data and vaccine
safety provided by the Center for
Disease Control and Prevention

Erin A. Bills, MPH, is a public
health consultant living in Big Sky,
MT. She is dedicated to improving
the health of Montana’s rural

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