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HealthWatch: School Immunizations


When I was a young pediatrician, I was distressed when one of my first patients died from Reyes Syndrome, a complication of chicken pox.  I still have the 35-year-old gym bag that the family gave to each of us in gratitude for the measures we took to try to save their daughter’s life.

Pediatricians of my generation have treated many children who suffered permanent brain injury from measles, or who had other complications from what are now vaccine-preventable diseases.  Fortunately, over many years, there has been a substantial decrease in death and disability from vaccine-preventable serious infections such as measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and pertussis (whooping cough).

Now, however, some parents believe vaccines are harmful.  Why?  A number of these parents continue to cite a single study, which attempted to associate autism with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.  Because he falsified data, the author of that totally discredited study, Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, lost his license.  So, once and for all, let’s set the record straight:  There is no evidence that vaccines cause any neurodevelopmental disorder.

There is one immunization schedule — and only one — that reflects creditable vaccine research and the input of our nation’s public health leaders.  It can be found at: www.aap.org.  Any other immunization schedule puts our children and the community at risk.

Both unimmunized and under-immunized children are at risk and pose a risk to others.  We, as pediatricians, assume a risk when an unimmunized child enters our office. That happened to a colleague of mine here in Orange County.  In fact, that child was one of the index cases that started a global outbreak of measles last year.  Pediatric offices were closed, exposed families were tracked, and some required quarantine.

These are some of the reasons that so many pediatricians and parents in California are grateful to State Senators Richard Pan and Ben Allen, authors of SB277, which abolished the so-called “personal belief exemption” for school vaccines, effective July, 2016.  Go to: www.shotsforschool.org  to check your child’s school and find out if it ranks “most vulnerable” or “safest” with respect to its current vaccination status.

Other resources on vaccinations, safety, and related matters can be found at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Vaccine Education Center.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, our professional organization, recommends full vaccinations, not just the vaccinations required for school entrance.  Parents should protect their children with life-saving coverage against meningococcal infections, cancer-causing diseases such as human papillomavirus (HPV), and other vaccine-preventable conditions — even though these particular vaccines are not required by schools.

Phyllis Agran, MD, MPH, FAAP
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