I would hate to think that my grandchildren and their children would live in a world in which childhood mortality due to disease would be on the increase. When my mother-in-law was born in the early 1900s, over 200 children out of 100,000 died from measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and scarlet fever. When I was a child in the 1950s, the number of children out of 100,000 succumbing to those diseases had fallen to less than 5. Improvement in medical care for children, better hygiene and widespread immunization are credited for the drop in fatalities.
During my childhood in 1952, a polio epidemic swept the United States, after beginning in Europe. Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis. The fear of contracting polio continued for years, with beaches and playgrounds closed in the summer months for fear of spreading the disease. Polio affected our friends and the parents of our friends. I remember driving past a house on the way to my father’s office and seeing a huge coffin-like machine on the enclosed porch. An iron lung, my father told us, and in it a man who had used to work construction, not able to breathe except for the machine. We would see and get to know many people who had been partially paralyzed by polio before vaccine was readily available. Some of those people, now at retirement age or beyond, are suffering from what is called post-polio syndrome, with new and debilitating symptoms.
In the mid 1950s, I and my classmates were “polio pioneers,” receiving the Jonas Salk vaccine. By the time my little sisters came along, they got the Sabin vaccine.
A friend in Rotary touts the role that the organization played in making the polio vaccine available in developing countries, nearly eradicating the disease world-wide. But a anti-West sentiment in some of those countries threatens the control of the disease because children are not being vaccinated. Their leaders tell them it is a Western plot to control them.
And in developed countries, a fear that vaccines themselves cause autism (a fear that has been largely discredited by solid research) leads parents to not vaccinate their children, making them vulnerable to childhood diseases, many of which are endemic, meaning they are present in the environment and can be contracted by those not immune, by natural immunity or vaccination.
The number of unvaccinated children in Minnesota is growing alarmingly. According to a press release from public health officials, “only 58.1 percent of Minnesota children ages 24-35 months are up to date on all recommended vaccines. The vaccination rate for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough among 11- to 12-year-olds is 52 percent, which is below the national average and ranks 35th among states. Going unvaccinated puts people at an unnecessary risk of acquiring vaccine-preventable diseases. The biggest danger is to infants who are not old enough to be vaccinated and get exposed to a variety of diseases.”
Parents of unvaccinated children rely on the rest of us to be vaccinated, so that an epidemic will not get a stranglehold on the population at large. They also rely on not coming into contact with others who have not been vaccinated and who may carry diseases such as polio and other childhood diseases that can kill or maim. That is a very risky thing in a population such as Minnesota’s, which is increasingly home to immigrants from countries where vaccines are not administered regularly.
The press release includes immunization schedules.
Minnesota’s recommended immunization schedule includes:
· For infants and young children: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), IPV (polio), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), varicella (chicken pox), PCV (pneumococcal), hepatitis A and hepatitis B, rotavirus, influenza, and Haemophilus (Hib) vaccinations;
· For children ages 7 to 18: Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis), MCV (meningococcal), influenza, and HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccinations;
· For adults: Td (tetanus, diphtheria) vaccinations every 10 years and influenza vaccination annually.
Where to get vaccinated
· Doctors’ offices
· Medical clinics
· Urgent care facilities (not all)
· Walk-in clinics (not all)
Most Minnesota clinics are part of a program called Minnesota Vaccines for Children (MnVFC), which will cover the cost of the vaccines. Many clinics ask for a fee or donation to cover the cost of administering the shot. MnVFC distributes about $39 million worth of vaccines to public and private clinics in Minnesota each year.
Getting shots at the right ages is important, but it is never too late to catch up. Please see the full schedule of vaccinations under state vaccination law at: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/immunize/laws/index.html
Do your children, and the rest of the population, a favor. Get your children vaccinated to prevent the return to the days of great infant and child mortality from disease.