Vaccines are Necessary

We know that vaccines are safe, even if they can have some side effects and risks.

And we know that vaccines work, even if they don’t work 100% of the time.

In fact, vaccines work so well, that they have eliminated or controlled many of the vaccine-preventable diseases that we still get vaccinated against.

Are Vaccines Still Necessary?

So that leaves some people asking themselves – even if the benefits of vaccines far outweigh their risks, are vaccines still necessary?

“So what I did on my schedule is, I took a more logical look at hepatitis B, and I realized that babies have no risk of catching this disease, so let’s not do the hep B vaccine while a baby’s young and small and more vulnerable.”

Dr. Robert W. Sears on Why Partial Vaccinations May Be an Answer

After all, most of us don’t travel to developing countries or do other things to put ourselves or our kids at risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease, right?

And we probably don’t have conditions that put us at high risk of getting sick either?

So isn’t it safe to just skip or delay many of the shots on the routine immunization schedule?

Shouldn’t some of them just be optional now?

Vaccines Are Necessary

Alternative vaccine schedules? Optional vaccines? No risk of getting diseases? Those are the arguments you will see on many anti-vaccine websites and forums, but they certainly aren’t logical arguments.

“The reason I delay the polio vaccine on my alternative schedule is that we don’t have polio in the United States. We haven’t had it here for over 30 years. We’ve been very fortunate because the vaccination program for polio has been so successful, now we’re reaping the rewards of not having to worry about this disease.”

Dr. Robert W. Sears on Why Partial Vaccinations May Be an Answer

Did you know that an unvaccinated group of Amish children got infected with polio in 2005?

Or that an otherwise healthy, unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. resident became infected with polio vaccine virus, developing paralytic polio, while traveling in Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program in 2005? It turns out that the granddaughter of the host family that she was staying with lived next door and had recently been vaccinated with the OPV vaccine, which does shed, and in this case caused her to develop vaccine-associated paralytic polio.

And did you know that there was a lethal case of vaccine-derived poliomelitis in Minnesota in 2009?

Apparently Dr. Bob didn’t either.

“We know that a disease that is apparently under control can suddenly return, because we have seen it happen, in countries like Japan, Australia, and Sweden. Here is an example from Japan. In 1974, about 80% of Japanese children were getting pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. That year there were only 393 cases of whooping cough in the entire country, and not a single pertussis-related death. Then immunization rates began to drop, until only about 10% of children were being vaccinated. In 1979, more than 13,000 people got whooping cough and 41 died. When routine vaccination was resumed, the disease numbers dropped again.”

CDC on What Would Happen If We Stopped Vaccinations?

But while polio is now on the brink of elimination, most other vaccine-preventable diseases are not. And that is why we see outbreaks any time vaccination rates drop:

  • measles – in addition to the outbreaks in the United States, there have been much bigger outbreaks across Europe, with much deadlier consequences
  • pertussis – yes, some of our pertussis outbreaks are because of waning immunity and occur in fully vaccinated children, but there were even larger outbreaks in Japan, Sweden, Italy, Ireland, Australia, and other countries in the 1970s and 1980s when immunization rates dropped, cases soared, and children died.
  • diphtheria – few people even know what diphtheria is anymore, but it is still around and causes outbreaks when immunization rates drop.
  • rubella – want to know what happens when you don’t vaccinate for rubella? just look at Japan – they had 14,357 cases of rubella and at least 31 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 2013.
  • Hib – a 2008 outbreak in Minnesota during a temporary vaccine shortage likely reflected “increasing carriage and transmission affecting those with suboptimal primary series vaccination coverage, or a weakening of herd immunity”
  • tetanus – although tetanus isn’t contagious, we are seeing more cases in kids and pregnant women who aren’t vaccinated, as the bacteria which causes tetanus is present in spores in dirt and dust almost everywhere
  • polio – although polio is now endemic in only three countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan, there are other countries where outbreaks can still occur, including the DR Congo and Syrian Arab Republic and many other high risk countries. This includes outbreaks of circulating vaccine derived polio virus, which increased this year in non-endemic countries, especially Syria because of years of poor immunization rates because of war.

Vaccines are necessary to avoid these kinds of outbreaks.

What Happens When We Don’t Vaccinate?

It should be very clear that everyone can’t try to hide in the herd.

We know what happens when  too many people don’t vaccinate their kids.

At least those of us who understand herd immunity know what happens…

In Ukraine, for example, there was a “massive epidemic” of diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases in the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

“This epidemic, primarily affecting adults in most Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union, demonstrates that in a modern society diphtheria can still spread explosively and cause extensive illness and death.”

Diphtheria in the Former Soviet Union: Reemergence of a Pandemic Disease

In Ukraine alone, there were 17,387 cases of diphtheria and 646 deaths from 1992 to 1997. Also high, were cases of measles (over 23,000 cases in 1993) and pertussis (almost 7,000 cases in 1993).

Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.
Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.

Need a more recent example?

Just look at the tragedy unfolding in Venezuela. In addition to all of the hardships the people are facing, because of a weakened health system, poor surveillance, and a lack of preventative measures, including immunizations, they are seeing a rebound of diphtheria, measles, and other infectious diseases.

After being eliminated in 1992, there have been at least 450 cases of diphtheria in Venezuela since 2016 and at least 7 deaths.

Vaccines are necessary.

Vaccine-preventable diseases will come back if we stop vaccinating our kids.

And tragically, they aren’t yet gone in many parts of the world, even those that are well controlled in more developed countries. That’s why we often say that these diseases are ‘just a plane ride away.’

Just remember that the planes travel both ways. It isn’t just you traveling to high risk areas. Sometimes folks who are sick with vaccine preventable diseases bring them home and start outbreaks.

Get educated. Get vaccinated.

What to Know About Why Vaccines Are Necessary

Until a disease is eradicated, vaccines at herd immunity levels remain necessary to keep it from returning and causing outbreaks.

More About Why Vaccines Are Necessary

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