The Vaccine Controversy

Physicians stress crucial childhood immunizations

VaccinesIf you're thinking of joining the small but growing number of parents who reject immunizations for their children, Joshua Freeman, MD, doesn't mince words:

"Get that vaccine."

Chief of Family Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Freeman cites the resurgence of measles as a case in point. "The reason we haven't seen measles (in the U.S.) in recent years is the vaccine has been so effective," he said.

But this success is now threatened. Though the disease was declared virtually eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, the number of cases climbed to 644 by 2014. In January alone in 2015, 84 cases in 14 states were reported.

Freeman said he presumes parents who refuse vaccinations for their children "believe incorrect information that vaccines are dangerous. They are not. But if you live in a community of like-minded people, preventable diseases can spread quickly."

Kansas especially lags in immunizations. For 2013-2014, just 87 percent of kindergartners entering public school received recommended doses of MMR and DTaP, fourth-lowest in the nation. Missouri's rate was 95 percent, which is the national median.

Kansas already had reported a pertussis death by February 2015. Like measles, pertussis – or whooping cough – was nearly wiped out a generation ago, but its numbers have climbed along with the anti-vaccination movement.

"The reality is," conceded Stephen Lauer, PhD, MD, associate Pediatrics chair, "we will continue to see these much higher levels of this disease until our vaccination rates are back up."

While some vaccination opponents cite religious reasons, most public health officials trace "the vaccine controversy" to a long-since discredited 1998 British medical journal article linking the MMR vaccine to autism. Numerous subsequent studies found no evidence of a link.

So take it from the nation's highest ranking physician, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD: "I want to say definitively ... there is no link between the measles vaccine and autism," he said during a visit to the University of Kansas Medical Center in January. "But not everyone has gotten that message."