Conflicting labels are stuck to vaccines — villainous and vital. The majority of Americans credit Edward Jenner’s innovations with preventing countless Americans from getting measles, mumps, rubella, polio and other once-prevalent diseases.
But some express deep concern about risks they associate with the injections. The Kentucky Department of Public Health fueled the local debate once again this summer by announcing new immunization regulations that require more vaccines for children entering kindergarten and sixth grade.
Local pediatricians and public health officials continue to tout the importance of immunization, recognizing the regulations as an effort to align Kentucky’s schedule with federal recommendations.
However, some parents harbor reservations about the effects and efficiency of vaccines.
“We always have a few parents that don’t vaccinate,” said Eva Stone, nurse practitioner and Boyle County Schools health coordinator.
Danville pediatrician Dr. Robert Rettie cited three primary concerns that may keep parents from immunizing their children.
“The whole vaccine controversy started with measles, mumps and rubella, and the link between that vaccine and autism,” he said. “That paper has been discredited, and lots of research since that time has pretty much disproven any association between autism and MMR.”
The media — whom medical professionals criticized for sensationalizing Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s findings in his infamous 1998 study — have since produced numerous pieces contradicting the link, and, in February, David Kirby wrote a column for the Huffington Post titled “The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away,” puzzled at why many affluent people fear a connection science has debunked multiple times.
But Rettie said the mere mention of a causal relationship between autism and vaccines is enough to unsettle parents.
“Most of the concerns parents have about vaccines are pretty unsubstantiated,” he said.
Apart from autism, Rettie said parents worry about the amount of toxins, such as mercury, in some vaccines, which he called negligible.
Parents’ third primary apprehension is the sheer number of immunizations children must receive, Rettie said.
With the new regulations, students who attend Kentucky public schools from head start/day care through sixth grade must receive about 25 vaccinations, he said. These guard against diseases including chicken pox, whooping cough, hepatitis, meningitis, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, among others.
“We definitely do give more vaccines than we did,” Rettie said. “Fortunately, we see the benefits of those vaccines.”
American Academy of Pediatric statistics show vaccinations have reduced the number of infections from vaccine-preventable disease by more than 90 percent.
Some diseases like polio have become nearly nonexistent, decreasing from more than 20,000 cases in the early 1950s to about 10 in 1979, nearly a quarter century after the vaccine was introduced, according to the AAP.
Vaccines also help infections that are still relatively common, like chicken pox, because they prevent rapid outbreaks, Stone said.