Immunize or Ostracize: Parents Who Turn Down Vaccines

More parents are choosing to skip vaccinations for their children. You may have considered this yourself, based on a variety of stories both truthful and misleading. But those parents who choose this path may ultimately be risking far more than just their child's health.

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the truth about vaccines

Saying No to Shots

While not federally mandated, all 50 states require certain vaccinations for children before they can attend public schools. These include vaccinations against measles, mumps, polio, diphtheria, pertussis and more. Yet in half of the states, an increasing number of parents are opting out of required vaccinations. In eight states, over five percent of kindergartners aren't getting the mandated vaccinations. More significantly, some regions have seen vaccination exemption rates between 20 and 50%.

As a result, the parents and students are facing a rising level of criticism and scorn. The parents of children who get vaccinated can feel that it's only because of their responsible habits that the unvaccinated children are kept safe from diseases. Furthermore, some doctors are refusing to allow children without vaccinations into their offices. They note that these children pose a risk to those who are too young to be vaccinated or may have a compromised immune system.

Concern About Vaccines

Parents who shun vaccines have a few legitimate arguments. By a child's sixth birthday, he or she may receive around two dozen shots. That's quite a few needles. It's also a plethora of medicine, and while each individual immunization may have been studied in isolation, many parents worry about their cumulative effect. In addition, some parents argue that the need for every required vaccine isn't the same; not every disease poses an equal threat.

Too often, though, these parents cite false reports and unproven science as the reason for their opposition to vaccines. The most prominent example is the fully debunked study that linked vaccines with autism. There is also the belief that vaccines weaken the immune system, though this has actually been proven to be the opposite of the truth. There are numerous other reasons cited by parents who oppose vaccines, though none have yet been shown to possess scientific validity.

An Issue of Public Safety

Many parents may have a false sense of security about the diseases their children face. Before vaccines, polio annually paralyzed 10,000 children. Each year, measles killed 3,000 children and pertussis, or whooping cough, killed thousands more. Up to 20,000 newborns also developed birth defects and mental retardation after contracting rubella annually.

While these diseases may appear to be eradicated or controlled, lapses in vaccinations have led to outbreaks time and again. For example, when vaccinations declined in the 1990s in Russia, the result was a massive diphtheria outbreak. Polio has also proven resistant; China is in the midst of a major polio outbreak and the United States could be next.

Parents who fail to vaccinate their children may be misinformed or misguided. But their obstinacy comes at a cost. Regardless of their reasoning, they're putting their children at risk. While any parent who endangers his or her child is irresponsible, a parent who endangers the community is potentially doing far worse.

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