Living on the edge: Declining vaccinations put a new generation at risk

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Ancient maps depicted parts of the planet that were as yet unexplored with drawings of monsters.

The phrase “Here be dragons” is still used today to describe the limits of our knowledge and the fear that too often fills the gap.

Oddly enough, the dragons seem to be swirling once more around the public’s understanding of an issue most of us thought had passed into common knowledge.

That issue is the need for vaccinations.

Parents of school-age children today got their vaccinations so long ago, they have no memory of them. The shots they received made measles, mumps and rubella (or whooping cough) all but forgotten childhood illnesses. First licensed in 1973, the MMR vaccine has been incredibly successful as a public health program, particularly because it is widely required in the U.S. for children attending public schools.

It’s hard to remember it now, but medical necessity was definitely the mother of the vaccine’s invention.

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Measles took the lives of 2.6 million people a year prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine.

About 186,000 cases of mumps were reported annually prior to vaccination. Although mumps rarely led to death, complications left many children permanently deaf.

Rubella, also known as German Measles, was not regarded as a serious illness for children. Its complications were more serious for adults. However, from 1964 to 1965, a major outbreak of rubella swept across the U.S. and the unborn babies of 20,000 mothers were affected by the much more dangerous version of the illness known as congenital rubella syndrome.

The impact was devastating.

More than 2,000 babies were stillborn, 11,000 were born deaf and another 3,500 were born blind.

The MMR vaccine has been amazingly effective in eliminating these infections. What we couldn’t foresee was that there would be a downside to that success. As mumps and measles disappeared from our experience, we tended to lose sight of the seriousness of the threat they once posed to our health. It got easier to deceive ourselves and believe that the risk isn’t real.
— Dr. Julie Elder, GraceMed’s Medical Director

In 1998, A group of British physicians released a report in that year which suggested what they considered to be a likely connection between autism and the MMR vaccine.

The report gave birth to the present-day anti-vaccine movement and spread fear among a generation of parents.

But after an army of researchers investigated the presumed connection, the science behind the report was completely disproved, and in 2010, the British Medical Council barred the doctor who linked vaccines with autism from practicing medicine.

The MMR vaccine has been established to be as safe as it is effective.

Measles was completely eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, just two years after the British report came out. But the damage it would do to public acceptance of the MMR vaccine would only expand in the years to come.

Spurred more by fear than medical research, the anti-vaccine movement has grown.

And predictably, so has the number of reported cases of these once defeated childhood diseases.

Just five years after hitting zero, the number of cases reported in 2014 had grown to 668. Nearly 1100 cases have already been reported at the halfway point of 2019.

Measles infections in the United States

Measles cases have grown by 1,173% in the past 3.5 years

“When it comes to immunization, there really is strength in numbers,” said GraceMed pediatrician Lauren Poull. “It’s what we refer to as ‘herd immunity’, and it’s essential to protect the most vulnerable members of our community – infants who are not yet old enough to receive vaccines. We keep them safe by ‘cocooning’ them within an immune population that doesn’t catch or pass on these infections. The sudden rise in measles cases is sounding an alarm to tell us we could lose that protection.”

Schools are a natural breeding ground for these diseases.

That’s why all 50 states have laws requiring that your child receive their appropriate vaccinations before they can attend unless there is a medical reason they can’t.

The shots are given on a schedule which you can learn more about on our website at www.gracemed.org/school. If your child needs to be immunized, you’ll also find contact information there to make an appointment with the GraceMed clinic in your area. We can also provide physicals required for participation in school athletic activities.

The new school year is almost here. Let’s chart a course to make it a healthy one for all our students.

View the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule for 2019 or download print-friendly versions of the charts for children ages 0–6 and 7–18.

Make an appointment to get your child’s vaccinations

If your children need to be immunized or if you need to get them physicals for school athletic activities, please call us to make an appointment at a clinic near you:

Wichita: (316) 866-2000
Topeka: (785) 861-8800
McPherson: (620) 504-6187
Clearwater: (620) 584-2055

You may also want to ask about applying for insurance under the Kancare or ACA Marketplace program. We have trained ACA Navigators who can help you select the best plan for your needs and get you signed up. You can contact our Navigators directly at (316) 977-9308. Topeka area residents can call (785) 478-5904.

The new school year is almost here. Let’s chart a course to make it a healthy one for all our students.

Kyle Bowen