Health & Fitness

Dr. Wood: Why you should vaccinate your children

In April, the Thurston County Board of Health recognized National Infant Immunization week — because we all want what’s best for our children, and for our community. The proclamation provides a good opportunity to share accurate, science-based information about vaccination.

First, some context. By searching the Washington state Department of Health Immunization dashboards, it shows 56 percent of children age 19-35 months received the immunizations they needed in Thurston County in 2017. For the whole state, the figure was 60 percent. However, Thurston County and Washington state both fell short of the national goal of 80 percent of young children having all of the needed immunizations before kindergarten.

It’s important to understand that vaccination science has a long, strong, history. Scientists and physicians have looked tirelessly for ways to halt disease and deadly outbreaks. According to, the distinguished history of vaccine science started about 200 years ago when Edward Jenner realized that some people who had a disease called cowpox were immune to the deadly disease smallpox. One hundred years later, Louis Pasteur made a similar discovery with rabies.

The middle of the 20th century saw large-scale polio vaccination. In fact, as many as 20,000 cases a year were reported before vaccination was available. Polio cases now are down to zero in the United States.

Another deadly disease, diphtheria, at one point killed roughly 10,000 children a year, but in 2014, there was only one case of diphtheria. These successes are directly related to vaccination science.

In fact, the history of vaccination science is long and fascinating — and has been well documented in an interactive timeline by the College Physicians of Philadelphia. Measles used to affect more than half a million children every year — with some of those kids developing life threatening complications. When Benjamin Waterhouse brought vaccination to the United States around 1800, Thomas Jefferson welcomed his work in a letter:

“Every friend of humanity must look with pleasure on this discovery, by which one evil more is withdrawn from the condition of man; and must contemplate the possibility that future improvements and discoveries may still more and more lessen the catalogue of evils,” Jefferson wrote.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbered vaccination as one of the 10 greatest public health discoveries of all time: “…the current childhood immunization schedule prevents approximately 42,000 deaths and 20 million cases of disease, with net savings of nearly $14 billion in direct costs and $69 billion in total societal costs (from 2001 – 2010).”

Your body is well-equipped to fight infection. Vaccines are an important tool in that fight. Vaccines are made with a tiny part of the organism that causes a disease. Your immune system fights the vaccine, so that later when the disease itself attacks, your immune system is primed, standing by, and already recognizes the enemy.

Parents want to do their best for their child by making informed choices that support good health, and with the lowest possible risks. Making sure information comes from reliable sources is key. Here are some science-based facts about vaccination that have been consistently proven over time.

  • Vaccination is the best, safest way to protect children from common diseases (like flu), uncommon diseases that could come back (measles, mumps), diseases in other parts of the world (polio, diphtheria), and to protect other people who may have weakened immune systems, or who cannot yet get vaccinated.

  • In Washington state, all vaccines for children aged birth through 18 years are provided at no cost. Health care providers may charge an office visit fee and/or a fee to give the vaccine, called an administration fee. The administration fee can be waived for people who are unable to pay it.

  • Breastfeeding has many proven health benefits, but not against most vaccine-preventable diseases. Breast milk cannot stimulate the infant’s immune system to produce disease-specific protection.

  • Keeping your immune system strong through good nutrition and good habits is important, but cannot specifically protect against vaccine-preventable diseases.

  • Vaccines are safe. Some people get mild reactions, and very rarely a person will be allergic to a vaccine, or have a serious reaction. However, the risk and consequences of vaccine-preventable disease is much higher. For example, children who have not had the measles vaccine are 35 times more likely to get the disease. For every 17 children with measles, one will get pneumonia; for every 1,000 children with measles, one or two may die.

  • Studies show that the many vaccines given in a baby’s first two years do not overwhelm the immune system. In fact, vaccines only represent a fraction of what an infant’s immune system successfully encounters and manages every day.

  • Vaccines protect everyone. When a whole community gets fully vaccinated, diseases can be driven out, and kept out. When a community has a 95 percent vaccination rate, they are considered protected. This is sometimes called herd immunity. Even when a community is considered “immune,” the bacteria or virus that cause the disease have not gone away. A community must stay vaccinated to remain protected.

  • Many of the diseases that vaccines can prevent are not easily treated if someone gets them.

  • Vaccines are not 100 percent effective. As with any medicine, different people respond differently. A few people may still get sick. Nonetheless, vaccination is the most effective and safest way to increase a child’s immunity, and will provide some protection —in many cases shortening the time of illness, or reducing the seriousness of the illness.

  • Choosing not to get vaccinated puts your child, and others, at risk of getting dangerous diseases.

To find out more about what vaccinations your child should have, and when, as well as information on adult vaccination, visit the Center For Disease Control’s Vaccine Resources. For more information about vaccination, check out Plain Talk about Childhood Immunization.