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Published on September 17, 2015

Immunizations help keep kids healthyImmunizations help keep kids healthy

Measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox were illnesses experienced by most children until the onset of vaccines. All of these diseases can be deadly and cause significant disabilities in a small number of children, said Dr. Miller.

The risks and benefits of childhood vaccinations were addressed at a forum held at Falmouth High School on September 16. Laurel Miller, MD, director of infectious diseases at Falmouth Hospital, Alex Heard, MD, pediatrician and Chief Medical Officer at Falmouth Hospital, and Eileen Duffy-Lind, RN, MSN, CPNP, pediatric oncology nurse practitioner at Dana Farber, discussed the vaccinations and their positive impact on children and the community. The panel also discussed side effects of vaccines, state requirements and exceptions.

Vaccines have proven to be effective as shown in the significant drop in viral infections. This is especially important in regards to herd immunity. If a critical number of members in a community are immunized against a contagious disease, most members will be protected because there is little chance of an outbreak. However, if many children are not getting immunized this can pose a risk to the community, said Dr. Miller.

“On the Cape we lag behind the rest of the state by about 4%,” said Dr. Heard. ”We have seen chickenpox, measles, and pertussis outbreaks on the Cape in the past two years.”

All states require some vaccines for all children and requirements vary from state to state. Vaccinations are given in kindergarten, seventh grade and college. Massachusetts is both a giving state and a totalitarian state in respect to vaccinations, said Dr. Heard. It is giving in that all health insurances cover all vaccines at no cost to all children. It is totalitarian in that it requires vaccines to be given to certain age groups within specific timelines.

There are also exemptions from vaccinations in various states. Massachusetts has two exemptions, religious and medical.

Parents often have concerns about side effects. Many, if not all vaccines can have some minor side effects such as fever and pain at the site of injection, said Dr. Miller. Prolonged fever, rash and joint pain can be of concern but are not usually serious. Rare, serious side effects are seizures and allergic reactions. “We have to be aware of those (reactions), but we shouldn’t not vaccinate because of a very rare possible reaction,” said Dr. Miller.

A newer vaccine that has been available within the past decade is the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. It was initially offered to teenage girls but is also now available for boys.

“The HPV vaccine is the only vaccine that can prevent cancer,” said Duffy-Lind. HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus and is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots at the age of 11 or 12. “This vaccine is safe and very effective,” Duffy-Lind said.

Even though many parents remain concerned about the effectiveness, safety, need and requirements for vaccinations, there is an indication that more parents than not have their children immunized. “Over 90% of parents will agree to vaccines for their children,” said Dr. Miller.