Parents have many decisions to make in their child’s lifetime. Who should I choose for their doctor? What is the best child care program? Is it better if I stay home and don’t work? What about schools? How about immunizations?

If you were born before the 1960’s or 1970’s, you probably remember the large outbreaks of measles, mumps, rubella and polio. I remember being confined in my parents’ bedroom with three of my siblings with the measles. We came out alright, but our neighbor’s daughter developed encephalitis. She is mentally disabled from the damage left behind. You might remember family or friends with polio. They may have lost the use of legs, arms, or even their ability to breathe. You may know a family whose child was born with severe birth defects because the mother contracted Rubella while she was pregnant. Those who are younger, including many doctors who are practicing today, have never seen some of these diseases. It’s hard to understand how devastating these diseases can be if you’ve never experienced them.

There is a lot of conflicting information out there about immunizations so it can be very hard to sort through it all to make sure you are making the right decision for your child and your family. You can find a huge amount of information on the internet about this topic, but what do you believe? So, first some facts:

  • There is no scientific evidence that shows a link between vaccination and autism.
  • Herd Immunity is a way to help protect those who cannot be immunized such as young infants, pregnant women or people who are immune compromised.
  • Iowa state law requires that all children who attend child care programs including homes and centers, preschools or schools must be fully immunized (some exemptions do exist for medical or religious reasons).

What about Autism? Back in 1998, a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, published an article showing a connection between the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. Many other scientists tried to reproduce the results of his study, but were unable to come up with the same results. In 2010, he was charged with falsifying the results of his study. He made it all up. But by then the damage was done. Many people today still believe there is a connection and they choose not to immunize their children because of it. The most recent study* included more than 95,000 children over a period of 11 years. "We found that there was no harmful association between the receipt of the MMR vaccine and the development of an autism spectrum disorder," said the researchers. Many other studies over many years show the same results.

Herd Immunity. What is it? When a certain percentage of a population are immunized, they protect those who cannot have vaccines; for example, a child who is allergic to the vaccine, a child receiving chemo therapy, a child who is chronically ill or infants who are too young to receive the vaccine. When most of the people around this child are vaccinated, it reduces the risk that they will become infected and then spread the disease to the unvaccinated child. This chart shows how it works:

After many studies of various outbreaks, scientists have determined that in order to have Herd Immunity, 90-95% of the population must be vaccinated. 

Remember the measles outbreak that started in Disney Land last year? The spread of this disease would have been greatly reduced if more people had been vaccinated for it. Less people would have carried measles on to a plane and back to their communities. Herd Immunity.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) has been making a comeback in recent years. Infants are hit especially hard with this illness and may be too young to be immunized for it. Before pertussis vaccines became widely available in the 1940’s, about 200,000 children got sick each year in the US and about 9,000 died as a result of the infection. Now we see about 10,000–40,000 cases reported each year and unfortunately about 10–20 deaths, and that number is on the rise. Herd Immunity helps to protect them.

So, what’s the answer for you? Some people believe it should be a law that all people must be immunized with no exceptions unless there is a medical reason that they can’t be. Others believe the government should stay out of it and should no longer fund vaccinations for children. Others still think it’s a just a personal choice. Immunizations are required by law because they protect our population. Think about the facts. Weigh the risks and benefits. Remember that the law on vaccination is based in science and is there to protect your child and the people in your community.

*The Journal of the American Medical Association

Other Resources:


Centers for Disease Control

Healthy Children (American Academy of Pediatrics)


Tags: immunization , outbreaks , measles , mumps , rubella , polio , autism , herd immunity , american medical association

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