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House Call: Vaccinations are a back-to-school essential

Mon., Aug. 14, 2017

School starts in just a few weeks here in Spokane. It’s time to do that back-to-school shopping to be sure your kids have everything they need to start the year off on the right foot. It is also time to make sure all immunizations and immunization records are up to date.

These days in addition to doing a lot of sports physicals for students wishing to join a team at school, I am doing wellness checkups and immunizations. Vaccines are more than just a requirement in the state of Washington for attending school, they are a health and safety essential.

There are many reasons why getting vaccinated is smart and practical. First is preventing the spread of disease so that people who cannot be immunized for one reason or another are safe from illness. Next is reducing days lost at work and school due to illness or caring for someone with an illness. In addition, vaccinations can help protect you from complications from disease, including brain damage, sterility and death.

During the mumps outbreak here in Spokane last year, students who were not immunized had to miss a lot of school to protect them from catching the disease. Even with homework and other assignments being sent home, it was difficult for children to keep up with their classes and to catch up once they returned to school. Helping our kids thrive in schools is another smart reason to immunize.

I learned last week that even though I was born and raised in the pre-vaccination era and had measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox as a child it is now necessary for me to either get blood tests to make sure that I am still immune to these or get vaccinated in order to do my work at the hospital. I’ve decided for my patient’s safety and mine that I am going to go ahead and get vaccinated for all of these.

With today’s medical care, we can treat people who get these diseases much better than we could 50 or 60 years ago. Complications like dying are far less likely, which is fantastic. But every year people do die and suffer needlessly. Let’s get a bit more personal about a good reason to have your kids vaccinated. How about just protecting them from the discomfort of the disease?

If you are my age, or even a bit younger, you can probably remember having measles, chickenpox, and other diseases we vaccinate for today. You may have been lucky and had mild cases and thus think these diseases really aren’t a big deal. On the other hand, you may have had a severe case of one of them.

A friend of mine had chickenpox so badly that she had the sores in her throat. She still vividly remembers the itching and the pain that occurred every time she swallowed and wouldn’t wish that on anyone else. I remember being miserable with the measles and I was happy to be able to protect both of my sons from that by having them vaccinated.

Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room: vaccinations and autism. There have been hundreds of studies (large and small) showing that immunizations are safe and effective. There was one study in 1998 that linked autism and the MMR vaccine and it has been found to be fraudulent. The data was falsified, the primary author lost his medical license, many co-authors withdrew their names from the study, and the journal that published the paper retracted it. Despite being debunked, the inaccurate claim still causes some people to think that vaccines are dangerous. They are not.

Put your kids on the road to a healthy school year and make sure their vaccinations are up to date.

Dr. Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.



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