Misconceptions about Immunization

Misconception #6:
Vaccine-preventable diseases have been virtually
eliminated from the United States, so there is
no need for my child to be vaccinated.

It's true that vaccination has enabled us to reduce most vaccine-preventable diseases to very low levels in the United States. However, some of them are still quite prevalent—even epidemic—in other parts of the world. Travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the United States, and if we were not protected by vaccinations these diseases could quickly spread throughout the population, causing epidemics here. At the same time, the relatively few cases we currently have in the U.S. could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases without the protection we get from vaccines.

We should still be vaccinated, then, for two reasons. The first is to protect ourselves. Even if we think our chances of getting any of these diseases are small, the diseases still exist and can still infect anyone who is not protected. A few years ago in California a child who had just entered school caught diphtheria and died. He was the only unvaccinated pupil in his class.

The second reason to get vaccinated is to protect those around us. There is a small number of people who cannot be vaccinated (because of severe allergies to vaccine components, for example), and a small percentage of people don't respond to vaccines. These people are susceptible to disease, and their only hope of protection is that people around them are immune and cannot pass disease along to them. A successful vaccination program, like a successful society, depends on the cooperation of every individual to ensure the good of all. We would think it irresponsible of a driver to ignore all traffic regulations on the presumption that other drivers will watch out for him or her. In the same way we shouldn't rely on people around us to stop the spread of disease; we, too, must do what we can.

This information is adapted from material that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in 1996 to help physicians reassure their patients.

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This page was posted on November 11, 1997.

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