The media — whom medical professionals criticized for sensationalizing Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s findings in his infamous 1998 study — have since produced numerous pieces contradicting the link, and, in February, David Kirby wrote a column for the Huffington Post titled “The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away,” puzzled at why many affluent people fear a connection science has debunked multiple times.
But Rettie said the mere mention of a causal relationship between autism and vaccines is enough to unsettle parents.
“Most of the concerns parents have about vaccines are pretty unsubstantiated,” he said.
Apart from autism, Rettie said parents worry about the amount of toxins, such as mercury, in some vaccines, which he called negligible.
Parents’ third primary apprehension is the sheer number of immunizations children must receive, Rettie said.
With the new regulations, students who attend Kentucky public schools from head start/day care through sixth grade must receive about 25 vaccinations, he said. These guard against diseases including chicken pox, whooping cough, hepatitis, meningitis, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, among others.
“We definitely do give more vaccines than we did,” Rettie said. “Fortunately, we see the benefits of those vaccines.”
American Academy of Pediatric statistics show vaccinations have reduced the number of infections from vaccine-preventable disease by more than 90 percent.
Some diseases like polio have become nearly nonexistent, decreasing from more than 20,000 cases in the early 1950s to about 10 in 1979, nearly a quarter century after the vaccine was introduced, according to the AAP.
Vaccines also help infections that are still relatively common, like chicken pox, because they prevent rapid outbreaks, Stone said.
“Kids that have been vaccinated are not as likely to transmit it through the air,” she said. “So we don’t have to be as worried if we only have one case.”
This touches on the concept of herd immunity, which physicians use to describe the decreased likelihood of a disease spreading in a vaccinated population even if one child doesn’t develop the ideal immune response.
“Not every child that receives a vaccine is 100 percent protected,” Rettie said. “That’s why we try to vaccinate as many kids as we can.”
Herd immunity did not, however, prevent about 25 vaccinated Lincoln County students from contracting whooping cough this winter, Stone said.
She said medical professionals are not entirely sure what caused the outbreak, but agree that the whooping cough outbreak could have been more severe and widespread if the students weren’t immunized.
“All those children had the illness, but none of those children were severely ill or had to be hospitalized,” she said.
Rachael FitzGerald, director of the Center for Rural Health in Danville, said the Lincoln County case may actually show the need to be more vigilant with vaccines.
A second dose of the varicella vaccine protecting against chickenpox is one of the added requirements for children entering kindergarten this year because the first injection has not reduced illness in classrooms as much as desired, Stone said.