In honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, as well as a time when children are headed back to school, we interviewed Demos Expert Dr. Leigh Grossman about the recently debated topic of childhood vaccinations. This year, an ongoing measles outbreak in the U.S. reached a record in May and celebrities like Robert Kennedy Jr. have joined the anti-vaccination movement. Dr. Grossman is the Division Head of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Virginia and author of Infection Control in the Child Care Center and Preschool, a detailed book about controlling infectious diseases in preschools and daycares.
Theories that vaccinations cause autism or contain poisonous ingredients like mercury have caused many concerned parents to wonder if the possible safety risks are worth getting their children vaccinated. In order to shed some light on this hotly contested issue, we went straight to the expert.
Dr. Grossman has decades of experience specifically in pediatric infectious disease and currently treats children who are already sick from infectious diseases. When asked about the importance of routine vaccinations, she commented that “the greatest gain that we’ve made in modern medicine is the ability to prevent disease instead of just treating it.”
Dr. Grossman recommends that children receive all the vaccines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices: hepatitis, rotavirus, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcus, hemophilus influenza, pneumococcus, chickenpox, and more at each appropriate age. Dr. Grossman stressed that these diseases pose serious risks to those not vaccinated. Especially with increased worldwide travel, it would only take one person incubating the disease to start an epidemic in an unvaccinated population.
For those concerned about the rumored link between vaccinations and autism, Dr. Grossman stresses that there is no reliable information to prove the link. She points out that vaccines, like any medicine, have risks. Incidences of bad reactions to vaccines are “incredibly rare” and miniscule when compared to the wider benefits to the general public. Beyond public health, she reminds us of the costs associated with treatment versus prevention, which are not just monetary (hospital care, medicine, insurance) but also economic (loss of work and school).
While recent media coverage of this issue has often shown parents who choose not to vaccinate their children in a negative light, Dr. Grossman offers a different perspective: “It’s a tragedy when unvaccinated children contract preventable diseases, but parents are trying very hard. It’s not out of abuse or neglect. Highly educated parents are reading everything they can find, but the internet is not always a reliable scientific source.” She commented that many don’t understand the real risks of these diseases: “We have done such a fabulous job of eradicating these diseases that parents now think these diseases are ancient history. If they could witness these diseases firsthand, they would be terrified and queuing up for the vaccines.”