By Rana Chakraborty, MD, FAAP, American Academy of Pediatrics
There are dozens of reasons why I care about vaccines – why we should all care – but a particular experience from my days as a pediatrician in London haunts me to this day.
The playground should be a place where children can run freely, be active, and be safe. But in 2005, immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine had plummeted in the pediatric population after the publication of incorrect data linking MMR vaccination with autism. A young boy who was receiving treatment after a kidney transplant played in the same playground as another boy whose parents had refused to immunize him, despite their son being perfectly healthy. This child had measles, but no symptoms. The child who received the transplant was on his way back to health, when he caught measles at the playground and set back his recovery.
That’s two children with measles. I wish the story ended there, but unfortunately, the virus continued to spread. The boy who had a kidney transplant returned to the clinic for his regular outpatient check-up. In the waiting room were several other children who had received kidney transplants. The outcome? A measles outbreak in a place where children should be safe … a clinic. Some of the children, including two of my own patients, faced devastating illnesses ranging from seizures to blindness. All of this from a trip to the playground.
When people ask me why I care about vaccines, I think of this story. I think of the children who are not vaccinated – whether it is because they are immunocompromised, because their guardians chose not to immunize, or because they live in regions where vaccines do not reach them.
That is why I care, and that is why I urge you to care. Support additional funding for vaccines. Educate others about vaccine safety, and why immunizations save so many lives — and have the potential to save so many more.