Vaccine Rates Decline: Doctors Say Parents Not Worried Enough
Before We Had A Choice: Pediatrician Remembers the Devastation of Disease
The growing ambivalence many parents show toward vaccines leaves Tom Rogers, M.D., frustrated.
After more than 56 years as a pediatrician, Dr. Rogers, a Cook Children's pediatrician at the Forest Park practice in Fort Worth, knows first-hand the devastation of infectious diseases on children. During his long career, he’s seen the life-saving advances that immunization has brought to children around the world.
“It really irritates me that parents will listen to people talk about the dangers of vaccines, but you hear very little about the dangers of diseases,” Dr. Rogers said. “It astounds me that anyone would not get their child immunized. It can be so dangerous for children who are immunosuppressed because they have a disease that won’t allow them to get vaccines.”
Nearly 90 percent of pediatricians say they have encountered a parent who refused to have their child vaccinated, according to a 2013 survey released this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The most common reason parents provided for their decision was that vaccines are no longer needed because the diseases they prevent are no longer prevalent in the United States.
Oddly enough, the high success rates of immunizations may be what’s driving this apathy. Most Americans alive right now haven’t seen diseases like polio or even tetanus, but Dr. Rogers has. He remembers the chilling scene of an entire ward of children suffering from tetanus, while he was in Thailand as a young man.
He recalls seeing the end of polio and watching kids in iron lungs, paralyzed from the waist down or on crutches and in wheelchairs because of the disease.
“These were terrible diseases and they are all gone, nobody sees them anymore,” Dr. Rogers said. “I hope we keep it that way.”
Vaccines have had a huge impact all over the world:
- In 1980, smallpox was declared eradicated globally at the Thirty-third World Health Assembly. It marked the first time that a disease had been vanquished.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that polio cases fell from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 407 in 2013.
But what happens if the trend of parents shying away from immunization continues?
According to the Houston Chronicle, the number of Texas public school children “whose parents decline vaccinations for non-medical reasons rose nearly 9 percent last school year.”
Since 2003, Texas has allowed parents to decline state immunization requirements for “reasons of conscience.” At the time, 3,000 kids were listed as exempt. The Chronicle reports that number has since multiplied to 45,000 last year.
Justin Smith, M.D., a pediatrician at Cook Children’s, believes parents should look at current examples of what’s happening in the world when making the decision to get their child immunized.
“I don’t think there are many parents out there who would choose to skip a shot for Zika if it were available,” Dr. Smith said. “But that fear we have about Zika is the same fear our parents felt for many of the diseases for which we vaccinate today. I'm not sure that fear remains for parents today.”