Deborah Burger: The message to parents must be clear: No child should ever be unvaccinated for any reason

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 13 percent of American children have been vaccinated against Hepatitis B and 70 percent against polio.

What makes these findings shocking is that research shows that both childhood vaccines are now safe and effective. That in the past decade, 95 percent of children now receive the recommended vaccine schedule, including Hepatitis B, which is the most common liver disease in the United States, and polio, a disease that has not killed a single American for decades.

Despite these facts, many parents have been questioning the value of childhood vaccines.

Studies have pointed to a heightened risk of autism in children who had received one or more vaccine against the H1N1 pandemic, which hit the United States in 2009 and 2010. A spike in autism was observed across three or more clusters of the disease; some parents believed the increase in the disease to be linked to the vaccinations. But, as I noted recently, the NIH funded studies that found no link between autism and MMR, a vaccine against measles.

Others have claimed that there is a link between the flu and autism, and the debate over this issue has also played out, and is still playing out, in scientific journals. In fact, in their 2013 book “God vs. Science: Moral Issues in Science,” Dan Reidenberg and David Gorski argued that the key causes of autism are “vaccine disruption and environmental stress.” The authors advanced theories of vaccine-induced autoimmune disorders that they argued include the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccines.

But the facts are clear: The CDC has shown in a large clinical trial that the safety and effectiveness of measles-mumps-rubella vaccines is proven; the extensive data on autism children from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program show that these vaccines do not cause autism; and epidemiological data are consistent with vaccines being the cause of autism.

Vaccines are now safe and effective, and are in fact protected by a growing public support for the scientific evidence.

Many parents today may not realize that vaccines should never be a matter of decision for their family, but rather that they are a basic measure of health.

After all, we do not make a choice to get sick.

Choosing to get polio- and Hepatitis-B-vaccine boosters would prevent hepatitis B and prevent an estimated 23,000 emergency room visits and 227,000 total days in school over a child’s lifetime. In addition, the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine will save an estimated $2.3 billion and prevent up to 10,000 illnesses each year, including up to 4,000 hospitalizations each year.

The bottom line is that today’s diseases can now be controlled and the majority of people are no longer at risk of getting sick, but no child is safe until all vaccines are administered.

Our most dangerous threat these days is now done through measles, and measles is caused by a virus with a 97 percent death rate. That is why it is so important that as many people as possible are vaccinated, no matter how skeptical they may be. We cannot afford to allow immunization rates to slip too low, or to give in to political pressure to accept low levels of inoculation rates.

As president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I am deeply concerned by the decline in immunization rates in the United States and the lack of public health leadership to combat the crisis. More than two million children in the United States have been unvaccinated, including 1 in 4 African-American children and 1 in 3 Latino children.

In recent years, mass immunization campaigns have reached even more American children, but the decline in vaccination rates is still a major public health concern.

Children who have not been vaccinated are at risk of infecting other children and adults, and the public must insist that the vaccine they receive be followed by the next doctor’s visit to obtain their next dose of immunization.

The message to parents must be clear: No child should ever be unvaccinated for any reason. Parents, it’s now up to you.

Deborah Burger is the first female president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and president emerita of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. She has spent more than 45 years as a pediatrician and is author of children’s books, including “Fighting to Raise Safe Kids.” Follow her @DrDebBurger.

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