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We Can't Let Our Guard Down Against Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Don L. Wilber, MD, FAAP
April 24, 2017

National Infant Immunization Week Blog-a-thon with woman holding baby. #ivax2protect

I was 5 years old when the Salk vaccine for polio was released. That was the same year I had to spend a couple weeks in the hospital for a kidney condition.

My hospital roommate, also in kindergarten, was battling polio. Unfortunately, the polio vaccine came too late to prevent the virus from ravaging his nervous system and, eventually, claiming his life.

I remember the iron lungs that breathed for the polio patients, all but their heads encased in whirring, pressurized tubes forcing air into their lungs. It was a scary time for parents and children. Vaccines have now eradicated this terrible crippling disease from most of the world.

When I was in residency, Haemophilus influenza Type B (HiB) was the most common cause of meningitis in children. At the children's hospital we treated many cases of HiB meningitis, which inflamed the brain lining and spinal cord.  We also saw other HiB-related complications such as epiglottitis, a painful swelling of the throat that could completely block the airway.

In the mid-1980’s, the vaccine for HIB was released and thirty years later we no longer see this disease. Because of the effectiveness of this vaccine my younger partners only know of HIB meningitis through textbooks (and some of my anecdotes).

This is the recurring story of vaccine preventable diseases.

In the mid-1980’s, the vaccine for HIB was released and thirty years later we no longer see this disease. Because of the effectiveness of this vaccine my younger partners only know of HIB meningitis through textbooks (and some of my anecdotes).

This is the recurring story of vaccine preventable diseases.

- See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/We-Can%27t-Let-Our-Guard-Down-Against-Vaccine-Preventable-Diseases.aspx#sthash.196pj2e8.dpuf

"In my 36-year career as a pediatrician I have never seen a significant reaction from a vaccine. I have however, seen epidemics in the United States caused by children being inadequately vaccinated."

The irony of vaccines is that they are so effective, they may seem to be unnecessary. They have veritably rid us of diseases to the point that this generation of parents has never seen polio, diphtheria, tetanus, HIB or measles.

Because of this, some parents no longer fear the disease. Instead, for unfounded reasons, they fear perceived risk from the vaccines -- risk that is defined for them through unrefereed social media full of misinformation, fake news and alternative facts.

As a result, we are experiencing an increasing number of parents deciding not to vaccinate, placing communities at risk for resurgence of deadly diseases once thought conquered.

In my 36-year career as a pediatrician I have never seen a significant reaction from a vaccine. I have however, seen epidemics in the United States caused by children being inadequately vaccinated.

Our job as the purveyors of information is to continue to aggressively recommend safe and effective vaccines to protect our children. Unless we remain vigilant we know through documented experience that when the vaccine rate falls the risk of epidemics rises and our children suffer.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the American Academy of Pediatrics. ​​​

​​​Ab​out the ​​Author

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Don L. Wilber, MD, FAAP, who practices pediatrics as the Oklahoma City Clinic, serves on the board of directors for the American Academy of Pediatrics Oklahoma Chapter.