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Misconceptions about Immunization
Immunizations should be part of routine health care obtained through one's personal physician (or in some instances, through one's local health department). Long-lasting protection is available against measles, mumps, German measles (rubella), poliomyelitis, tetanus (lockjaw), whooping cough (pertussis), diphtheria, chickenpox (varicella), Hemophilus influenzae b (Hib), and hepatitis B. Immunization against all of these is recommended for children by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Practice, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
All states now require proof of immunization or other evidence of immunity against some of these diseases for admission to school. However, the requirements vary from state to state, and exemptions may be granted for medical, moral, or religious reasons.
Immunization is also important for adults. Those unprotected against any of the above diseases (except whooping cough) should consult their physicians. Tetanus boosters should be administered every ten years. Flu shots (which give only seasonal protection) and immunization against pneumococcal pneumonia are recommended for high-risk patients, elderly individuals, and certain institutional populations.
The success of vaccination programs in the United States and Europe inspired the 20th-century concept of "disease eradication" -- the idea that a selected disease can be eradicated from all human populations through global cooperation. In 1977, after a decade-long campaign involving 33 countries, smallpox was eradicated worldwide. Polio caused by wild virus has been eradicated from the Western Hemisphere; childhood vaccination levels in the United States are at an all-time high; and disease and death from diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) are at or near record lows. In April 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a fact sheet with some interesting statistics about the impact of vaccination on childhood diseases.
Average annual number of smallpox cases in 1900-1904: 48,164.
United States cases per year since 1950: 0.
Worldwide cases per year since 1977: 0.
Average annual number of diphtheria cases in the U.S. in 1920-1922: 175,885.
U.S. cases in 1998: 1.
Average annual number of pertussis cases in 1922-1925: 147,271.
U.S. cases in 1998: 6,279.
Estimated average annual number of tetanus cases in 1922-1926: 1,314.
U.S. cases in 1998: 34.
Average annual number of paralytic polio cases in 1951-1954: 16,316.
U.S. cases of wild type poliovirus in 1998: 0.
Average annual number of measles cases in 1958-1962: 503,282.
U.S. cases in 1998: 89.
The number of mumps cases in 1968: 152,209.
U.S. cases in 1998: 606.
Average annual number of rubella cases in 1966-1968: 47,745.
U.S. cases in 1998: 345.
Estimated average annual number of cases of congenital rubella syndrome in 1966-1968: 823.
U.S. cases in 1998: 5.
Estimated average annual number of Hib cases before vaccine licensure: 20,000.
U.S. cases in 1998: 54.
At least ten misconceptions can lead parents to question the wisdom of immunizing their children. If you encounter others you would like Quackwatch to address, please contact us.
Misconception #1: Because of better hygiene and sanitation, diseases had already begun to disappear before vaccines were introduced.
Misconception #2: The majority of people who get the disease have been immunized.
Misconception #3: There are hot lots of vaccine that have been associated with more adverse events and deaths than others. Parents should find the numbers of these lots and not allow their children to receive vaccines from them.
Misconception #4: Vaccines cause many harmful side effects, and even death -- and may cause long-term effects we don't even know about.
Misconception #5: DTP vaccine causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Misconception #6: Vaccine-preventable diseases have been virtually eliminated from the United States, so there is no need for my child to be vaccinated.
Misconception #7: Giving a child more than one vaccine at a time increases the risk of harmful side effects and can overload the immune system.
Misconception #8: There is no good reason to immunize against chickenpox (varicella) because it is a harmless disease.
Misconception #9: Vaccines cause autism.
Misconception #10: Hepatitis B vaccine causes chronic health problems, including multiple sclerosis.
Misconception #11: Thimerosal causes autism: Chelation treatment is bogus.
Opposition by Offbeat Professionals
Large percentages of offbeat practitioners advise parents not to immunize their children. Some are rabid on the subject. Others pretend to provide a "balanced" view but greatly exaggerate what they consider negative reasons. These actions are irresponsible and can cause serious harm both to patients and to our society as a whole. For further information see:
Chiropractors and Immunization
Naturopathic Opposition to Immunization
News and Commentary
British Courts Side with Vaccination in Parental Dispute
Lower Court Ruling
Court of Appeals Ruling
Immunization: The Inconvenient Facts: A science-based response to Viera Scheibner.
The Promise of Vaccines: The Science and the Controversy: American Council on Sciece and Health booklet
Vaccination Undermined: Three factors discussed.
Reliable Information Sources
U.S. Centers for Disease Control
National Immunization Program offers answers to common questions.
The "Pink Book" Epidemiology & Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases
CDC Information Hotline: (800) 232-2522.
MEDEM Learning Center on Childhood Immunizations: Comprehensive information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, including its recommended childhood immunization schedule.
Health Canada: Laboratory Center for Disease Control
The Immunization Action Coalition, whose mission is to increase immunization rates, offers childhood and adult immunization information and answers questions by email.
The Immunization Gateway: Links to many other authoritative sites.
Immunization Newsbriefs: Online and e-mail newsletter from the National Network for Immunization Infoirmation
The Vaccine Page: Vaccine news and a database
Healthy People 2010: Surgeon General's goals for immunization
Sabin Vaccine Institute: Vaccine news
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Jordan Report 2000: Accelerated Development of Vaccines
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
National Network for Immunization Information
Vaccine Education Center (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)
Vaccine Support Message Board
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This page was revised on March 27, 2004.