Vaccine debate reignites

Last updated 05:00 12/06/2014

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OPINION: The National Network for Immunisation Information in the United States - providing up-to- date, science-based information to anyone wanting the facts about vaccine - reminds us of a time, decades ago, when thousands of children and adults contracted smallpox, diphtheria, poliomyelitis or measles each year.

When vaccines came along safety concerns were uncommon because people dreaded the prospect of infection much more than the possible side-effects of the vaccines.

Nowadays smallpox has been eradicated; poliomyelitis has been eliminated in much of the world; measles, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type B, and rabies have largely been controlled in many parts of the world.

New vaccines, meanwhile, are being developed for other diseases.

As memories fade of a time when children were paralysed by polio, choked to death from diphtheria, or were brain damaged by measles, parents fret about vaccine safety.

An inadequate understanding about vaccine effectiveness and safety is a potent factor.

The consequences of eschewing vaccines can be socially disruptive if not tragically fatal.

Because of a measles outbreak in a Hamilton school, people headed to Fieldays this week are urged to check that their measles immunisations are up-to-date.

As Waikato District Health Board's medical officer of health Dr Anita Bell explained, unimmunised people risk being exposed to the virus whenever large crowds gather.

Fraser High School has been quarantined while health authorities investigate almost 45 cases.

All extra-curricular activities are being cancelled or postponed for the remainder of the term.

People who have not had two MMR immunisations are being urged to stay away from the school and parents with unimmunised children are being advised to think about the risk they pose to other families.

The airborne virus can be contained only by limiting the number of unimmunised people exposed to it.

It is particularly galling that the school outbreak may have been caused by parents failing to immunise their children. Almost 100 per cent of cases the authorities have identified involve unimmunised children.

Concerns about vaccines are valid, but advice should come from professionals - not from zealots or well-intentioned friends peddling misinformation.

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- Waikato Times

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