Not Vaccinated: More Children at Risk?

Not Vaccinated: More Children at Risk?

MIDLAND, TX (KWES) - "It's one of the most important medical advancements we've had in the 20th century," said Dr. Brandey Ackerman, pediatrician at Midland Pediatric Associates.

As recently as the 1950's, there was no known defense for many diseases that are now easily preventable. But the polio vaccine developed around that time opened the door, and vaccines for measles, mumps, small pox and rubella would soon follow.

So would the masses.

"When the polio vaccine first came out, everyone was running to get it because the risk of death or being paralyzed was so concerning," said Ackerman.

As more vaccines were developed, people in the U.S. were more than happy to oblige in being protected.

At the time, most states did provide exemptions based on religious or philosophical beliefs, but those numbers were extremely small. 
That trend began to change though in the late 1990's. Ackerman said most of her visits involve vaccines.

She notes a now retracted and falsified article from former British Doctor, Andrew Wakefield, that could have spurred a change in opinion.

"He published an article that said vaccines could cause autism, particularly one of the vaccines. That has been found to have been completely untrue. The article was removed. He was stripped of his license," said Ackerman. 
That theory has since been tested many times over, with nothing supporting the findings.
"Numerous studies have shown since then that vaccines do not cause autism and many of the other conditions that people claim they do," said Ackerman.
But for many, it didn't matter the article was proven false. Just by it being out there, it attracted a following. 
"Even though it wasn't accurate information, it sort of lit a fire with people and then it got a lot of play," said Imo Jean Douglas, MISD Health Services Supervisor.
And the numbers show that to be true.

Looking alone at the state of Texas, the number of students claiming conscientious exemptions have skyrocketed in the past 15 years. In the 2003-2004 school year, only a little more than 2,300 students claimed exemptions. But last school year, that number had risen to nearly 45,000.

Douglas said those numbers are worrisome.
"We have concerns for those kids because those kids are at great risk. They don't have the immunity provided by vaccines," said Douglas.
Here closer to home, the numbers aren't as staggering, but there has been a jump.

In the last five years, Midland ISD has seen a jump from just 28 exemptions to nearly 170 this year.

You can see an increase in the private schools as well.

Midland Christian and Trinity School both had exemptions in the single digits ten years ago, but now that number is above 30 for both schools.  

While the increases aren't dramatic, it could still pose problems. 
"What you're concerned about is if you have a pocket of children who are not immunized or if you have one class or one school where a pocket of kids aren't vaccinated, that is where you are at a higher risk of spreading diseases," said Ackerman.
One example of that is the measles outbreak at Disneyland in California in late 2014 and early 2015.

That prompted the state to get rid of the conscientious exemption option and made it mandatory for children in schools to be vaccinated.

But despite that outbreak, the numbers of non-vaccinated children continue to go up.

Both Dr. Ackerman and Douglas said a number of factors contribute, including the undeniable success vaccines have had.
"We kind of say in medicine in some way that vaccines are their own worst enemy. They've done too good a job. They've done exactly what they're supposed to do. They've prevented disease," said Ackerman.

"For generations now, we haven't seen those illnesses at as high a level as we've seen before because of the efficacy and effectiveness of vaccines," said Douglas.
If you look at the numbers from the CDC, the success of eliminating disease is staggering.

The pre-vaccine era cases have nearly been eradicated as of 2009. But the spread of false narratives and unverified stories on social media have made some parents question the necessity for vaccines and whether or not they actually work.
"I think there are a lot of anecdotal stories, a lot of personal blogs and even what look to be credible websites, it's hard for people to tell what is a credible website," said Ackerman.
"We like to encourage parents to look at fact based evidence versus just the anecdotes, like my cousin's sister's nephew had this happen," said Douglas.

But whether or not they agree with the parent, health officials understand parents aren't making this choice maliciously. It's something they actually think is right.
"I really do think that parents really do want to do what's best for their child. In that moment, they fell that not vaccinating is what's best for their child because of that information," said Ackerman.
While there might be small common problems after being vaccinated like a fever, both Dr. Ackerman and Douglas reiterated their stance that not vaccinating isn't worth the risk.
"Our primary goal is to make sure that children are happy and healthy and that is why we are so passionate about vaccines, because we feel that is in the best interest for both the children, and all of the other kids in the community," said Ackerman.
"So it's our preference to have them as fully immunized as possible because we can't predict what will walk through our doors," said Douglas.

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