Q: A new study has reported that there is an increase in the number of unvaccinated children in public schools across the country. What is this study about?
A: In the New England Journal of Medicine this month, there was a report that compared different states regulations around allowing parents to exempt their children from the requirement to be protected against vaccine-preventable illnesses. In states that had more lenient regulations, for example allowing people to refuse vaccinations based on a personal belief system rather than a religious exemption, there was a higher rate of children without the standard vaccines when they are in elementary school.
Q: How many children are we talking about?
A: Fortunately, these are not large numbers, but the percentage of children increased from 1% to 2%. However, there are some communities around the country that have an isolated much higher number of unvaccinated children, based on the culture of that community, enough to risk pockets of infection to spring up. Most of these illnesses are ones that children will recover from, but some diseases that are vaccine-preventable can be fatal, including whooping cough, and a throat condition called epiglottitis where a small child's airway is blocked, caused by haemophilus. Other diseases pose a special risk to pregnant women, such as measles, causing birth defects, or a problem to those with a poor immune system, such as encephalitis from chicken pox.
Q: Where do we go from here?
A: Parents should talk to their pediatrician about what vaccines their children are recommended to receive. Next week I will talk about alternate vaccine schedules, the science behind the recommended vaccine schedule, and why we recommend shots at certain ages.