It seems like the headlines never end. Every day there's a new news story about a measles outbreak or a case of another vaccine-preventable disease, or about debunked anti-vaccination information and how it has impacted public health over the last decade.
For new parents, wading through these news stories can be overwhelming, but this week America's top doctors—Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral Brett P. Giroir, U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield—want to press pause on the news cycle and talk directly to new moms and dads.
This week is National Infant Immunization Week, and these officials spoke with Motherly about what parents need to know, and these top docs agree with something we at Motherly have been saying all along: The conversation about vaccination in America needs an injection of empathy.
"It's important that we continue to recognize that a lot of folks out there who aren't getting their children vaccinated simply need to have their questions answered in a compassionate manner, and in a manner without pressure," says VADM Adams. "We don't want to demonize folks. Everyone just wants to do what's best for their children in their eyes. We've got to continue to do a good job of engaging those folks, not saying you're a bad mom because you chose to spread out the schedule, but saying, look, here is the evidence...And here's all the information out there that shows that this not only effective but safe for your child."
We know that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is very safe, and that the 1998 research of former doctor Andrew Wakefield linking vaccines to Autism has been debunked repeatedly, but the vaccine hesitancy it created is ongoing and has been described as the World Health Organization as a threat to global health.
America's top doctors agree. They're concerned about what they're seeing and really don't want to return to the pre-vaccine days, where hundreds of American kids died from measles every year. "I'm a pediatrician. I'm also a pediatric critical care specialist, meaning I work in pediatric ICUs. All too often, I treat critically ill children who had vaccine-preventable diseases. I've seen firsthand the devastation to the child and also to the family and the community [after] a death, or a limb amputation or severe brain damage that could have been avoided by a simple vaccination," says ADM Giroir.
Giroir and his colleagues don't want to see children and parents suffering, but they understand the incredible impact misinformation about vaccines has had and want to assure parents these vaccines are safe and there is no benefit to spreading out vaccinations or doing a delayed schedule.
"Missing or delaying vaccinations leaves children vulnerable for serious illnesses for longer than necessary," VADM Adams tells Motherly. "We've got to get that word out, we've got to get the word out that vaccines do not overload the immune system. And that even if the child gets several vaccines in one day, it is a tiny, tiny fraction of the many germs that children are exposed to throughout the day."
For CDC Director Dr. Redfield, National Infant Immunization Week is about opening up a conversation with parents in order to prevent a national health crisis. "We've reached a disturbing marker in the fight to eliminate this disease: the latest data collected by the CDC tells us that there are 695 cases of measles now in 22 states. This is the largest number of cases reported in the United States since measles was eliminated from our country in the year 2000," Redfield explains.
According to Redfield, 94% of parents do choose to vaccinate, but the percentage of children under 2 years old who receive no vaccines has actually increased in recent years to about 1.3%. "That means that there's roughly 100,000 American children under the age of two who are currently not protected against vaccine-preventable diseases. That's far too many children."
The CDC recommends children get the first dose of MMR vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age and a second dose at somewhere between four and six years of age. "Teens and adults should also be up-to-date with their MMR vaccine, and individuals six-month or older should have been vaccinated before leaving on international trips," says Redfield.
America's top doctors want parents to talk to their own doctors if they have questions, but if you want more information about National Infant Immunization Week right now, visit the CDC's website.