Last week, my youngest daughter received her last round of "baby" vaccinations. As I sat there, holding her hand and drying her tears, I realized how my own perceptions about vaccinations have changed over the last decade, from the time I began researching them for my oldest, to last week's doctor's visit.
Ten years ago, fears about vaccinations for children were at an all-time high. Fueled by a combination of the notorious and now-debunked British study that found a link between autism and vaccines and the explosion of information (both true and false) on the Internet, parents around the world were rejecting vaccinations for their children over fears for the children's future health and safety.
I can still remember the pit I got in my stomach after reading the Wakefield study, not knowing at the time how skewed the data really was. Yet as terrifying as the alleged autism link was, I was equally terrified at the thought of my child contracting the measles or even polio. I talked to my doctor, I did my research, I held my breath, and I gave my daughter the vaccines.
At the time, the risk of her contracting one of the diseases I was vaccinating her against seemed near impossible. It was almost 15 years ago that top officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gathered to raise their glasses to what they assumed would be the complete eradication of measles over the next few years. In fact, CDC officials reported that their main obstacle to complete eradication was that the disease popped up so infrequently that nobody was really worried about it. The fear was that parents would opt out of getting the vaccine because they thought the disease was already eradicated, not because they were afraid of the vaccine itself.
But then along came the flawed and probably altered British study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that linked autism to the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. Suddenly, parents were rejecting the vaccine — and all other vaccines — in record numbers. Last month, the CDC announced that 118 measles infections were reported in the U.S. just in the first half of this year. That may not sound like a huge number until you realize that there were only about 50 cases a year of the disease from 2001-2008. This year, it looks like the U.S. will top 300 cases. And for a disease that spreads as rapidly as measles, it won't take long for that 300 to turn into an outbreak.
So there I sat in that doctor's office last week. All fears about vaccines and children's health have now been stamped out by every health organization and scientific study with any credence. Sure, the rumors are still plentiful — and I'm sure this post will prompt a slew of comments from folks who disagree. Yet, as sad as I was to helplessly watch my daughter take the stick, I no longer had to hold my breath in worry over a potential for disaster as a side effect of her vaccines.
Is this the end of vaccine anxiety for parents? It certainly is for me.
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