As parents, we protect our children every day. We hold them as infants and walk them to school. We make sure that they do not fall from playground equipment and catch them if they do. Our role as our children's protectors also includes taking precautions advised by experts. For example, research determined one of the most effective ways to protect our infants from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was to put them on their backs to sleep. This advice, given by pediatricians and health care providers, has cut the number of SIDS deaths by half.
"Unfortunately, when vaccines are not given, serious illnesses such as these can spread freely and take hold, especially among the most vulnerable members of our community like young children."
Similarly, the number of deaths and disease prevented by simple vaccines is astounding. As a medical resident many years ago, I saw cases of a terrible airway infection called epiglottitis. Toddlers who developed the infection would have so much difficulty breathing that they could just stop altogether. With the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine, we now rarely see cases of epiglottitis. This same vaccine also protects against meningitis, which also has decreased exponentially since the vaccine was introduced two decades ago. Unfortunately, when vaccines are not given, serious illnesses such as these can spread freely and take hold, especially among the most vulnerable members of our community like young children.
In the past few years we have seen several outbreaks of measles and other diseases easily prevented by vaccines, mostly within communities and schools where immunizations were not given. Measles can be a very serious illness with complications that include permanent hearing loss, pneumonia, brain swelling and even death. Even if a child doesn't experience complications, some new research shows that the measles infection can weaken the immune system for up to two years, during which time children may be prone to other infections.
We do so much to care for and protect our children. As a pediatrician and parent of two, I often wonder, why would we put them at risk by ignoring a simple, proven tool to avoid illness and keep them healthy? Vaccines have made many diseases a distant memory. Let's keep it that way and give our children the protection they need to live long and healthy lives.
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of "AAP Voices" blog posts highlighting the importance of vaccine-preventable diseases during 2016 National Infant Immunization Week.
Hansa Bhargava, MD, FAAP, a member of the Digital Media Alliance for the American Academy of Pediatrics, is a staff physician at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and serves as pediatrics editor for WebMD.com.