With school starting, now is the time to make sure your children are up to date with their vaccines. But thanks to all the hoopla blaming vaccines for autism and other health issues (all of which have not been proven) a lot of parents have been fearful for their children to get their shots.
Hopefully, a new report will help relieve some of that anxiety.
Researchers from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) looked at a slew of immunizations that experts say all children should receive — mumps, measles and rubella (MMR); chicken pox; influenza; hepatitis A; hepatitis B; human papillomavirus (HPV); diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTAP); and meningococcus — and found that these vaccines cause very few health issues in children.
Of note, they conclude that there is no evidence to support a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, as many parent groups continue to believe, spurred on by the claims of British physician Andrew Wakefield, who lost his medical license last year when his findings were found to be fraudulent. The committee's report joins many other past studies that have come to the same conclusion that vaccines and autism are not related.
The committee members also decided that there isn't evidence at this time to link the flu shot to episodes of asthma. They did, however, report that the HPV vaccine, the most recent shot added to the immunization schedule, may cause anaphylactic shock in some people, and that the MMR shot can trigger joint pain.
Does this mean you can breathe a huge sigh of relief? Maybe.
First, when looking over the existing data, researchers found in most cases there wasn't enough evidence to prove a direct link between the vaccine and the health risk. That doesn’t necessarily mean there isn't a connection, it's just that we don't have adequate data to show otherwise or we don't have the data at all.
Also, the report doesn't answer the big questions around whether or not receiving vaccines all in one day or close together is more harmful than spreading the vaccines out. All of the patients in the study received their vaccines close together, so there is nothing to compare their results with.
Vaccines are important to all communities, which is why the CDC tries to maintain a 90 percent immunization rate among all demographics. And while the racial gap in immunizations has been getting smaller, it still exists — and not just among African-American children, but also among adults. According to the Office of Minority Health:
Older adults are at increased risk for many vaccine-preventable diseases. In 1999 approximately 90 percent of all influenza and pneumonia-related deaths occurred in individuals aged 65 and older. Older Hispanic and African-American adults are much less likely to be vaccinated against influenza and pneumococcal disease than their white counterparts. Data show that in 2000, children living below the poverty level have lower immunization coverage rates as well.
While the lack of access to health insurance and/or not enough money to receive the vaccinations that we all need, fear of the medical community and questions around “what is in those vaccines“ continue to haunt the African-American community. Hopefully the more research that is done to show their safety, the more willing we will be to roll up our sleeves.
To learn more about vaccines, go to the CDC's website here.
(Photo: JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters/Landov)