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Informed Immunization
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A parent’s first responsibility is their children’s life and health. That responsibility is simpler today than it was a century ago. Hazards remain. We still caution our kids to look before crossing a street, and to be wary around strangers.

Even as late as World War II, parents had additional worries. A scratch could lead to tetanus. Diphtheria, polio, and whooping cough regularly killed or crippled children. Even “common” childhood diseases, such as mumps or measles were causes for concern. Complications could cripple or lead to death.

By the late 1970s all of these diseases were held at bay by a wide range of vaccines. The generation now becoming parents is the first in history for whom “childhood” diseases were something in history books, not personal experiences. If you were born after 1980 you are likely never to have encountered anyone your age that had them.

As risk from disease faded, a new worry replaced fear of disease in many parents’ hearts—fear of the vaccines that prevent these diseases. Parents are showered by articles warning of the dangers posed by immunization. The claims made are usually exaggerated, with the risks posed by vaccination emphasized, and the risks of forgoing vaccination minimized.

Frequently, claimed risks of vaccination are based on bad information, faulty science, and occasionally fraud. Because the stories are dramatic and unusual, people tend to buy magazines or newspapers that print these stories. This is viewed as “good press,” because these stories increase sales. The media is motivated to run them. Often, these articles present assertion as fact. Even when they do not, some parents, seeing the flood of stories assume that there has to be something to them. Otherwise, why would there be so many?

Where does one go to get a balanced perspective?

One resource is now available online: http://www.immunizationinfo.org/, the website of the National Network for Immunization Information (NNii). NNii was created as a resource to provide reliable, up-to-date information about vaccines and vaccine safety for anyone who wants it. They do not advocate for vaccines. They provide evidence-based, information, and tell it like it is. Part of a Texas-based nonprofit corporation, Immunizations for the Public Health, the NNii is headed by Dr. Martin Myers, a respected professor of pediatrics at University of Texas, Medical Branch in Galveston, Tex. Its archives contain a wealth of information about immunization issues, archives including articles on “misinformation about vaccines” and “evaluating information about vaccines on the Internet.” Each article is reviewed by experts for accuracy and then by non-technically trained parents for clarity.

NNii is prohibited by their bylaws from receiving funding from the pharmaceutical industry or the Federal government. They work hard avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest.

The childhood diseases of the past are still out there, waiting to find an unimmunized host. Parents owe it to their children to informed decisions about immunization. The NNii can help you make one.

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By Mark Lardas
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