For each generation, keeping your kids safe has meant something a little different. I was a child of the 1970s – no seatbelts, lots of bike time without a helmet, eating colors and chemicals we never questioned, and lawn darts. ‘Nuff said. There was so much that we did not know – then and today. I have no doubt that my parents loved me and did their best to keep me safe, including making sure my siblings and I received the recommended immunizations. To this day, I have a copy of my original vaccination record showing that my mother protected me from MMR, polio and tetanus.
Times have obviously changed. We don’t let our kids wander out of the neighborhood as much as we used to. We put helmets on their heads and belt them into car seats. We continue to do everything we can to keep them safe, including making sure that they receive their childhood vaccines. What has also changed, however, is the comfort level that some parents have now in refusing vaccines. After decades of eradicating polio, tetanus, and measles from our country, no one remembers the impact that these diseases had on children. We have lost our fear, so we consider not giving the shots.
One of the standard pediatric shots is the MMR, which includes protection against measles, mumps and rubella (“German measles”). Though the United States successfully campaigned early on to eliminate measles, it took much longer to make vaccines available across the world. In 1980, 2.6 million people died (in that one year) from measles. The numbers went down as vaccine programs rolled out. In 1990, 545,000 people died of measles, and by 2014, the count was down to 73,000.
Because of vaccine refusal, we are now seeing outbreaks of these rare diseases in our country. In 2019, we had a measles outbreak in the US of 1274 cases of which a majority were unvaccinated people. Though mumps is not as serious (just incredibly uncomfortable for most of us), we had less than 500 cases yearly over the past few decades. Suddenly, between 2015-2020, we had a big bump in those numbers with more than 20,000 US cases.
And now we have polio in detected in our wastewater in New York. Polio was eliminated in our country with ZERO cases for the past 30 years—until now. Our grandparents and many of our parents were terrified of polio. Until the 1950s, polio outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis every year. Once vaccines were released, cases with paralysis fell to less than 100 in the 1960s and 10 in the 1970s. Vaccines work.
As we slowly limp away from the last two years of lockdowns and virtual school, most of us are really hopeful for a fabulous, in person, safe school year for our kids. We buy them new clothes, clip them into their seatbelts in the car, and bring them to a school that we hope will protect them and teach them. We make sure they have their helmets on when riding bikes, scooters, and ATVs. We watch them closely in the pool for the last few days of summer. And no lawn darts.
In keeping our kids safe, please do not forget to talk to your pediatrician about vaccines and boosters that may be due. This is one of the most tested and effective ways of protecting our kids. Especially as your kids get older and do more traveling, remember that all the diseases that we have worked so hard to eliminate in the United States are still circulating globally. It only takes one traveler to bring a deadly disease back home.
Lastly, when you are talking to your health care provider, please ask about and consider the new pediatric Covid vaccine. Early on in the pandemic, children only made up about 4% of all Covid cases with minimal hospitalization and almost no reported mortality. We now know that children were protected against the early strains due to differences in their innate immunity. Unfortunately, mutations have created new strains that are now defeating the pediatric immune system. We are seeing an increase over the last surge with kids making up 25% of all new cases. Over 12 million children have now tested positive with most of these in the last few months. Children remain vulnerable to post-Covid disease like MIS-C (multi-system inflammatory syndrome) and long Covid which both result in disruption to physical and mental health.
This fall, let’s unite again to do the right thing, and keep our kids safe.
Submitted for publication in The Galena Times August, 2022: