Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana
I know there's a lot of information flooding the news about childhood vaccinations and the risks associated with them, namely the fear that they could cause autism in some susceptible children. I cringe a bit when I hear the disjointed bits of information that most parents (and parents to be) are able to glean from the news stories being presented on this. And it's not their fault at all. Much of the information that's out there isn't misinformation so much as it is incomplete and limited in scope. And what results is a blind fear that parents don't quite know what to do with. They're scared to vaccinate and they're scared to not vaccinate. It can also shake their trust in the medical community and make them wonder why docs insist on these shots if they have the potential to hurt their children.
For me, this is a non-issue. The diseases we're preventing through the administration of these vaccines are that potentially life-altering or deadly for children that I could never risk my child's health or life by refusing to vaccinate. But because we don't hear of children getting these diseases in our country, we don't have a natural fear of them. And this contributes to parents' consideration of non-vaccination as an alternative to worrying about side effects. So what we really need to do is reintroduce a bit of that fear through education.
The CDC happens to publish a free Parents' Guide to Childhood Immunizations, available either in print or downloadable form. It's full of helpful but unsettling reminders about what it means to be infected with these diseases and why choosing not to prevent them would be such a mistake. We've made so much progress as a country in eradicating childhood infectious diseases. It'd be one of the biggest tragedies imaginable to take steps backward now.
And the question of association with autism? Trusting the research that says there's no association may not be at all reassuring for parents, but it's all we've got. We're left with a strong, evidence-based case for vaccination and not much to the contrary, save for some anecdotal evidence. Dr. Steven Parker, a Boston pediatrician, writes a great article for WebMD that appeals to parents' sense of logic rather than spouting volumes of medical information they can't mentally assemble in a meaningful way. It's not an elegant piece, but it's direct and it puts the most recent media coverage into perspective.