In voting for the recent referendum on vaccines, Oak Parkers seem to be questioning one of the safest, most effective means of promoting health known to medicine today [Oak Park not taking action on vaccine referendum, OakPark.com, Nov. 3].
The timing is curious because factually there is nothing new; no reports have emerged recently to cast doubt on vaccinations. On the contrary, several large, well-done studies have found no association between autism and thimerosal, the mercury-based vaccine preservative that is the subject of the referendum. Moreover, since the removal of almost all thimerosal from our vaccine supply in 1999, there has been no improvement in autism rates. Vaccines are supported by far more research and experience than almost any other pediatric service we provide, but in many ways they are victims of their own success —it’s hard to appreciate their benefit because they’ve been so remarkably effective at eliminating once-common, serious childhood diseases.
These diseases are still with us, however, and could easily make a comeback unless we maintain our nation’s high vaccination rates. Anti-vaccine advocates sometimes try to frame the debate as a civil rights issue, insisting they only want to exempt their own children from the requirement, casting the rest of us as spectators with no particular interest in the outcome. However, vaccination is actually a public health issue: A decreased vaccination rate puts vaccinated as well as unvaccinated children at increased risk of life-threatening illnesses such as whooping cough, measles and meningitis. One study estimates that a doubling of the unvaccinated population in this country could increase the risk of measles in vaccinated children by as much as 30 percent. We are all truly in this together.
The medical community welcomes a discussion on the importance and safety of vaccinations, but let’s makes sure we have a proper one. The health of our children hangs in the balance, and they are counting on us to do the right thing.
Dr. Eddie Pont is an Oak Park resident and past president of the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of the writer’s name.