Benefits outweigh risks when it comes to vaccination

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Few topics are as polarizing as childhood vaccines. But from a doctor’s standpoint, it’s simple. Vaccinate your child.

Matthew Bean, MD, an HonorHealth Medical Group primary care physician in Phoenix and father of three, is a steadfast proponent of vaccines. Unless certain medical conditions or religious beliefs prevent their use, he says the proven benefits of vaccinations far outweigh the potential risks and unfounded claims of danger.

Vaccines have eliminated or greatly reduced more than 14 preventable infectious diseases, including measles, polio and smallpox. The vaccine schedule outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics calls for children to be immunized against 14 infectious diseases by age 2. Around age 12, boys and girls are immunized for meningitis and human papillomavirus, a virus known to cause cervical cancer, penile cancer, genital warts and more.

So why are parents deciding against vaccinations in record numbers? Dr. Bean says it comes down largely to fear.

Fighting fear

The fear of vaccines ignited in the late ‘90s, when a physician promoted a theory that they cause autism. Experts irrefutably debunked the theory, and the physician lost his medical license with the discovery that he fabricated his data. But the damage was done. Adding insult to injury, celebrities with no medical training began promoting the theory, leading many people to jump on the anti-vaccine bandwagon.

Dr. Bean doesn’t deny that an autism diagnosis can be devastating. What he does deny is that vaccines cause autism. Unfortunately, facts sometimes take a backseat to fear.

Regardless of how much literature, data and photographic evidence he shares, Dr. Bean says approximately 10 percent of his patients refuse vaccines – a number higher than he would have expected and much higher than he likes. Even more frustrating is that the potential impact of their decision extends far beyond just those who avoid vaccination.

There’s a herd effect with vaccines. When the greatest number of people gets vaccinated and the population becomes immune to a disease, they indirectly protect the very young, very old, and the small number of individuals unable to get vaccinated due to a health complication or underlying medical condition. When people choose not to vaccinate, holes crop up in the herd, leading to infectious disease outbreaks. Measles, which is on the rise in Arizona and beyond, is a prime example.

Activating the immune system

Vaccines work by safely challenging the immune system. Depending on the vaccine, the body receives either a tiny portion of the actual virus or a much less harmful version of the virus.

The immune system fights that small sample of a particular virus and stores the information in its memory bank. When and if the body comes into contact with the virus at a later date, the immune system already knows how to respond and can launch an immediate attack.

Dr. Bean describes vaccination as a way for the immune system to gear up for a battle that it may someday need to fight. It’s common and perfectly normal for a person to get a fever or feel rundown after a vaccination, he says. It means the immune system is doing its job.

While doctors recommend vaccines for just about everyone, some vaccines shouldn’t be given to some people, including those who:

  • Experienced a fever of 105 with a previous vaccination.
  • Have had their spleen removed.
  • Are immunocompromised, such as those undergoing cancer treatment or immunotherapy.
  • Previously experienced an allergic reaction to a vaccine.
  • Suffer any type of neurologic syndrome such as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
  • Are pregnant — live viruses can’t be given to pregnant women. However, doctors strongly suggest that pregnant women receive a non-live flu vaccine to protect both the mom and fetus.

These individuals should discuss with their doctor what vaccines they can and should take.

Discuss vaccines with your HonorHealth doctor or call 623-580-5800 to find a doctor who can help.