Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Aug. 27, 2001

Now, aren't we smarter than that?


So you dragged your kids to the clinic this month, wondering why you are forced to submit to this thing called immunizations.

It's a pain in the buns, isn't it? Wouldn't it be easier, cheaper, or simpler not to do it? Don't you just hate it when the government tells you what to do?

We are a distinct and unique generation, in the respect that we are the first ones to really be free - and far removed - from the affects of disease that used to hold our parents and grandparents in true terror.

Unfortunately, those who do not appreciate history tend to repeat it. Perhaps we need to have a refresher of why we need immunization shots.

What would happen if we didn't get them?

The nine diseased involved in immunizations - that is, diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), pertussis (whooping cough), polio, measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), haemophilus influenza type B, and hepatitis B have a fantastic track record.

They kill just as well today as they did 50 years ago. And they like young children, particularly those under 5, or even the unborn.

I hope you don't like to travel (or your neighbors, or anyone you know) because if you do, these diseases exist in countries that don't immunize their children.

So, we take for granted what our parents must have thought was the most ingenious protection of modern science against the most fearsome diseases in the world.

But what's at stake, here?

Let's figure out what we're protecting our kids against.

Diphtheria most often causes death, from a germ that lies in the mouth, throat, and nose of the infected person.

It is very contagious. The victim may die of suffocation, if the infection is in the throat, or may suffer heart failure, or paralysis from poison created by bacteria from diphtheria.

Tetanus (lockjaw) causes painful convulsions (severe enough to break bones) and possibly death (three out of 10 who contract it die). It is nicknamed "lockjaw" because one of its first signs is spasms in the jaw, followed by muscle spasms in the neck, arms, legs, and stomach. The spasms are caused by poison contracted through a wound.

Pertussis (whooping cough) may cause serious complications because it can develop into pneumonia, possibly convulsions, or even brain damage (called encephalopathy).

It is very contagious, as it spreads through violent spells of coughing, which can make it hard for the child to eat, drink, or breathe. It is caused by a germ that lives in the mouth, throat, and nose of an infected person. This illness is hardest on infants less than one year old, and indeed, half of cases reported are in this age group.

Polio comes on suddenly. It causes paralysis or possibly death. The milder form lasts only a few days.

The serious form (paralytic polio) attacks muscles and usually leaves its victims paralyzed within a week, leaving its victim without the use of an arm, legs, or the ability to breathe.

This disease is caused by a virus that lives in the throat and intestinal tract. There is no cure for polio.

Measles is usually not deadly, except for pregnant women that miscarry or give birth prematurely.

It carries side affects such as rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes.

This disease promotes ear infections, pneumonia and may lead to an inflammation of the brain called encephalitis. Encephalitis causes convulsions and can leave the child deaf or mentally retarded. This disease is extremely contagious - so much so, that before the measles vaccination came out, every child had measles before he or she turned 15 years old.

An average of 530,000 cases were reported during the 10 years before the shot was introduced, and 450 people died because of it during that time frame.

Mumps may cause deafness. The impact of mumps is much the same as measles - it is usually not deadly, but extremely contagious and can lead to other, more serious, side affects such as encephalitis.

About one of every four teenaged males who contract this disease develop a painful swelling of the testicles. Victims of mumps may develop swelling in the cheeks and jaw, caused by an inflammation in the salivary glands, usually with a fever and headache.

Rubella (German measles) attacks unborn babies. A pregnant woman who contracts rubella in the early part of her pregnancy has an extremely high chance (about 80 percent) of giving birth to a baby with any of the following: deafness, blindness, a damaged heart, an unusually small brian or mental retardation . . . if she doesn't miscarry the baby in the first place.

Children or adults who contract rubella may experience slight fever, with a rash, and swollen glands in the back of the neck with swelling, and stiffness in their joints.

Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) strikes children under 5, causing meningitis (an inflammation of the covering of the brain), pneumonia, and infections in various parts of the body.

Every year in the U.S. about 12,000 children got meningitis related to Hib; of these one in four suffer permanent brain damage and one in 20 die as a result of this disease. Hib is not related to flu, or influenza, even though it has the word "flu" in its name.

Hepatitis B is the main cause of liver cancer. This disease is caused by the hepatitis B virus. Some victims never recover from the disease and are called "carriers" because they carry it in their blood for life, and can spread it to others - about one million strong in the U.S., right now.

Side affects are: loss of appetite, pains in the muscles, joints or stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting, and yellow skin or eyes.

I've heard a variety of excuses against immunizations (I'll save the wackiest for last).

Someone said that the shots we take today are not valid anymore . . . one shot was actually something to protect against a disease that only strikes cattle.

This is false, said by a misinformed person. The shots you received when you were a kid are not the ones given today because they change according to the needs of the (human) population over the years.

For example, the immunization against hepatitis is given today even though you never got a hepatitis shot when you were young.

Someone also said that it shouldn't be something forced by the government - we should all have a choice.

That's very noble. But it doesn't get the job done. Immunization only works if everyone does it.

You know darn well - as I do - that half of parents in Minnesota would not get their children immunized tomorrow because they don't have the time, money, and energy to do it.

When I grew up, we didn't have health insurance and so you had to be on your deathbed before my parents took one of us to an expensive doctor's visit.

Very few people that I know are against immunizations because of the principle of the thing. These people, who seemingly have medical degrees and think that they know what's best for everyone else's children as well as their own, are risking their children's lives to prove a point. That's dumb. And I hope they don't travel - spreading their ignorance elsewhere.

Someone else suggested that drug companies are making a mint off injections - well, they would if they were charging for the shots, but the small amount you pay for immunizations is to pay the nurse to administer the injections, not the shots themselves.

Besides, they would make more money off a nice, terminal illness that is highly contagious.

Side effects of the shots are also a very valid concern, but only to someone who doesn't know what the alternatives are.

As you look over the list above, can you find anything preferable to rare cases of physical reactions to the shots themselves?

Can you think of anyone in your lifetime - anyone at all - who was hurt or killed by an immunization shot? I can name three people right now that I know personally who were victims of polio.

Each of us is unique in his or her own way, and when the field of medicine tries to contend with treating every single person alive, it's bound to hit up on rare reactions.

That's part of the reason why you sign disclaimers when you have important medical procedures done. We're all different, and we react differently.

For this reason, it should (and is) OK to skip a child that has known reactions.

OK. You want to hear the wacky one. Someone told me that the reason why these diseases are not prevalent anymore is because people started to wash their hands more often.

Yes, this person swore up and down that years ago people didn't know how to wash their hands, and that's why their children died from these diseases.

This actually has a grain of truth to it (which is where most misconceptions start).

Years ago, our public water system wasn't very clean and it actually spread diseases through running water. This might hold water (apologies for the pun), if all of these diseases were water-borne.

Unfortunately, nearly all of these diseases are airborne, and although washing your hands is a good idea, it doesn't stop you from catching a cold, does it?

Or maybe long ago they didn't have very good soap to wash their hands with. Hmmm. . . . . problem there too. Time for a science lesson. What cleans your hands when you wash them? The soap or the water? Surprise answer: the water does.

The soap breaks through what is called the "skin," or surface of the water, and the water particles actually tear apart whatever you're trying to wash off your hands and carry it away, down the drain. Think of what happens to something when it's exposed to water for any period of time.

Water breaks down just about anything, over time.

OK. Point made. If water wasn't strong enough back then - even for the most serious hand washer of the time - to ward off these diseases, then it doesn't now, either.

Well, I think this ties up the subject of immunizations.

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