Vaccines are extremely important not only for your own child’s health, but the health of the entire community. “Refusing to vaccinate your child not only puts your child at risk but puts susceptible children at risk,” says Sean O’Leary, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital in Denver. “We immunize ourselves and our children for the good of the community. By keeping those immunization rates high, we protect the vulnerable people out there.” (Szabo, 5-26-2009)

Herd immunity for highly contagious diseases such as pertussis or measles requires immunization rates of 95% or more. Yet there are many pockets and clusters around the country where immunization rates have dropped below 60%. As the editors of Scientific American state, “Parents who opt out are endangering not only their own kids but everybody else’s, too–including those who cannot be vaccinated because they are too young or immunocompromised, as well as youngsters who have received their shots [since vaccines are never 100% effective, a tiny percentage of vaccinated kids can still get sick].” (Scientific American, 2011)

According to research by the CDC, if every American child followed the recommended vaccine schedule, some 33,0000 lives would be saved, 14 million infections prevented, and $10 billion slashed from health care costs every year. (Kotz, 2009) “By vaccinating your child, you’re doing good not only for that child, but for the community,” says Kristen Ehresmann, immunization program manager for the Minnesota Department of Health. (Manning, 2- I 6-2009)

Unfortunately, “Despite the fact that it’s one of the greatest health measures ever invented by man or woman, there seems to still be a small residue of humanity that objects to the very idea of immunization,” says Dai Lloyd, a doctor in Wales who had treated many recent measles outbreaks. “lf you go around the cemetery you can see the historical evidence of childhood slaughter from pre-immunization days.” (Whalen & McKay, 2013, p. A 12)

The Extended Benefits of Vaccines

Aside from protecting children against the deadly diseases they were developed for, there is mounting evidence that vaccines may confer a variety of health benefits, protecting a child against other illnesses the vaccine wasn’t intended for, especially when administered via the attenuated virus. It seems priming a child’s immune system in this way leaves them stronger and better equipped to fight off infections of all types.

Such “off-target” benefits have been documented in a number of studies. A 2016 review of 68 papers commissioned by the World Health Organization and published in the medical journal BMJ found that measles and tuberculosis vaccines “reduce overall mortality by more than would be expected through their effects on the diseases they prevent.” The measles vaccine led to a 50% lower risk of death from any cause in vaccinated children.

In 2017, researchers at the CDC in the U.S. documented a similar effect, finding that children were half as likely to be hospitalized for other infections if they had received a live vaccine between the ages of 16 and 24 months as opposed to an inactive one. We’ve seen this play out in real world conditions, too, when mortality rates for children of all causes suddenly and mysteriously dropped after children in a poor region of the world received the measles vaccine.

The Rotavirus vaccines decrease the likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. A study of nearly 1.5 million U.S. children found that there were 41 % fewer new cases of type 1 diabetes among fully vaccinated children. Those who were only partially vaccinated didn’t receive the same benefit. (Cunningham, 2019)

Another study found the flu vaccine seems to decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Researchers looked at 1.8 million American adults ages 65 and older, and found that 8.5% of those who skipped a flu shot developed Alzheimer’s in a 4-year follow-up, compared to 5.1 % of people who had. Those who got more than I shot, meanwhile, had greater protection still, and those who got their flu shot every year had the lowest risk of all. (The Week, Nov. 3, 2023, p. 21)

“Although we still need to know much more about the details, I now have no doubt that vaccines do have some off-target effects because of the support from many different types of evidence,” says pediatrician Frank Shann. (Wenner-Moyer, 2019)

Many scientists push for including more live vaccines in the immunization schedule as a way of improving a child’s overall health. Yet so far the idea remains controversial and has gained little traction, largely because medical authorities are fearful of altering the current vaccination schedule in any way during a time when there’s so much public suspicion about the topic.

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