The New Challenges of Immunization
As measles cases skyrocketed in 2008 because more parents opted not to immunize, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) unleashed a major push to promote complete and timely vaccination of kids of all ages. But when the economy took a steep dive as new and costly vaccines have continued to be added to the recommended list, doctors, health plans and parents are now struggling to overcome barriers to immunization.
Though the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2008 that global measles deaths declined nearly 75%, the United States saw the highest rate of the potentially fatal disease in more than a decade (since 1996). And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it was likely tied to the refusal of some parents to immunize their kids (particularly with the measles, mumps, rubella [or MMR] vaccine) because of unfounded fears of a link to the development of autism — often perpetuated by misleading media reports, TV shows, and websites. Study after study has found no link between autism and any single immunization, combination vaccination (like MMR), single vaccinations given at the same time, or the mercury-containing vaccine preservative thimerosal.
And for parents who think their personal choice not to vaccinate couldn't really affect anyone else (particularly babies, the elderly, and kids with compromised immune systems), it can. Consider this: In 2008 federal health officials were able to trace a wave of measles cases among unimmunized US children back to just one 12-year-old boy from Japan who traveled to the United States for the Little League World Series, unaware that he had the highly contagious disease. Yet the current economic downturn is making it harder for such an important public health initiative to stay on course. A late 2008 study found that many doctors are feeling the financial strain of purchasing, storing, and administering vaccines to the point that some are even opting to stop offering them altogether in their offices.
What to Watch:
Immunizations remain a crucial tool for keeping kids — and grown-ups — healthy and free from some historically devastating diseases, like measles, whooping cough, and the flu. That's why in 2008 federal health officials started urging flu vaccinations for all kids 6 months of age and older. And the AAP will likely continue its massive mission encouraging moms and dads to make sure kids are immunized on schedule from infancy through adolescence.
But continuation of the economic downturn in 2009 may have a negative effect on immunization efforts. For example, some vaccines (like Gardisil, which protects against human papillomavirus, or HPV) don't come cheap, which means more and more doctors may find it no longer financially feasible to offer some vaccines in their practices. Plus, as more parents lose their jobs (and their health coverage) it could be even tougher to come up with out-of-pocket expenses to have their children immunized.
But, as countless studies show, when fewer people immunize their kids, diseases (like measles) that were practically gone start to gain traction again. That why it's only safe to stop vaccinations for a particular disease once that disease has been totally wiped out worldwide, as in the case of smallpox. So, before deciding to skip or delay any vaccine (for whatever reason) it's wise for parents to give their doctor and health insurance provider a call before every routine check-up — to find out which vaccines are routinely recommended and which will actually be available and covered.
A Kid's Guide to Shots
Who Needs a Flu Shot?
The Flu Vaccine
Vaccine Against Genital Warts and Cervical Cancer
News - CDC: Flu Vaccine Now Recommended for School-Age Kids and Teens, Too
News - CDC: Measles Outbreaks May Be Tied to Parents' Choice Not to Vaccinate
News - CDC Warns of Measles Outbreaks in the U.S.
Frequently Asked Questions About Immunizations
Is the Flu Vaccine a Good Idea for Your Family?
News - Meningitis Vaccine Can Save Kids' Lives
Your Child's Immunizations
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