Most parents trust their pediatricians to steer them in the right direction when it comes to vaccinations. Yet a small percentage resist having their children immunized.
“Giving vaccines is far and away the best thing we do as pediatricians,” says Cleveland Clinic pediatrician Michael Macknin, MD. “It’s the most effective and safest way for families to protect children from becoming seriously ill.”
Here are the 3 vaccines parents are most likely to refuse, says Dr. Macknin:
1. Flu (influenza) vaccine
Parents refuse flu vaccines more than any other. “This is particularly unfortunate, as many of the 36,000 excess flu deaths per year could be prevented,” says Dr. Macknin. “Influenza is the most lethal vaccine-preventable disease right now in the United States.”
The very young, the very old and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to flu. That is one of many reasons why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges everyone over 6 months of age to get yearly flu vaccines.
Vaccinating the young is key. “Most epidemics begin in school-age children. Those children who aren’t immunized against flu serve as a reservoir for the rest of the country,” warns Dr. Macknin.
Common reasons parents have for refusing flu shots include:
- Believing that you can get flu from the vaccine. “It’s impossible to catch flu from the vaccine, especially if you choose the shot,” says Dr. Macknin. The flu shot contains only killed virus. The nasal flu vaccine contains a virus too weak to do any harm, although, as a precaution, no one under age 2 or over age 50 is eligible for it.
- Believing that the vaccine can make you sick. “You can get low-grade fever, and you may be achy and sore,” says Dr. Macknin. “But you absolutely won’t get an illness that will keep you in bed for a week or cause you to miss work for a week to care for a child with a serious respiratory infection, as you would with influenza.”
- Believing that you won’t get flu because you’ve never had it. “That’s just pure luck,” Dr. Macknin says. “If you or your child don’t get vaccinated, there is nothing to prevent you from getting flu this year.”
Flu shot preparations contain egg, but even egg allergies are no longer a major concern. “We have found that the flu vaccine is safe in the vast majority of people with egg allergy,” notes Dr. Macknin.
2. HPV vaccine
The second most common vaccine parents refuse is the HPV, or human papillomavirus, vaccine. HPV is the main cause of cervical and anal cancers and contributes to other cancers linked to sexual activity. The CDC recommends vaccination before sexual activity is likely to begin, and the vaccine is approved for ages 9 to 26.
Parents worry that HPV vaccination will encourage early sexual activity, says Dr. Macknin. But nothing could be farther from the truth. “Children and adolescents are no more likely to go out and have sex if they get the HPV vaccine than if they do not get the HPV vaccine,” he says. “This has been studied very carefully.”
What the HPV vaccine will do is provide girls with protection against most cervical cancers. The vaccine will also protect males and females against 90 percent of the 500,000 cases per year of genital warts in the United States.
The expense of the HPV vaccine usually should not be an issue, says Dr. Macknin. The Affordable Care Act mandates that new insurance policies completely cover all types of preventive care for children — including the HPV vaccine — with no deductible. “This is absolutely spectacular for children,” he says.
3. Chickenpox vaccine
The third vaccine parents tend to refuse is the chickenpox vaccine. Parents who have had chickenpox themselves often dismiss the need for a vaccine. In fact, many parents used to encourage their children’s exposure to chickenpox during summers and other “convenient” times of year.
Chickenpox is far less deadly than other diseases — but it can still cause serious skin infections, scarring, pneumonia and, rarely, death. “Before the vaccine, there were about 10,000 hospitalizations per year from chickenpox,” says Dr. Macknin. “The chickenpox vaccine has been wonderful at reducing time missed from work and from school.”
The initial chickenpox vaccine didn’t provide long-lasting protection, but vaccinated children got milder cases. Now a chickenpox booster is recommended before starting school.
The risk of getting shingles, a painful skin condition caused by the chickenpox virus, is also less after chickenpox vaccination than it is after full-blown chickenpox.
A medical breakthrough
Vaccines have been voted by CDC as one of the major medical advances of the 20th century. One of the reasons is so-called “herd” immunity. “The more people who get vaccinated, the more protection we all have,” explains Dr. Macknin. “Once we reach a critical number, one person won’t be able to pass it to another because everyone around that person is immune. Isolated cases don’t spread like wildfire through the community.”