Written by Ryan Martin, CNN
From preschools to hospitals, vaccine-preventable diseases have historically been among the most dangerous childhood illnesses, claiming approximately 250,000 lives per year.
But according to a new book by pediatrician Nancy Rabalais, the dangers of a cold is small compared to the dangers of vaccines. And she bases this argument on what she says is a surprising fact: research shows vaccination is less likely to cause a child to die of a disease they weren’t vaccinated against than vaccines cause more serious illnesses.
“Vaccines may help to prevent things like pneumonia, whooping cough, but they are just as effective at preventing diseases they don’t prevent,” said Rabalais, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
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Rabalais has long been a proponent of vaccination, so when she met with her coworkers to work on the book “Vaccines and Me,” they surprised her with an idea: Why not make a book for young children?
The resulting kids’ book “VAXXED: Protect Your Kids But Not Your Faith,” went on sale September 22, at participating Canadian bookstores.
This concept was inspired by pediatricians’ concern that their children are beginning to question the benefits of vaccines. During a random survey of pediatricians in the United States and Canada, Rabalais found that only 29% of children — those between 0 and 4 years old — were immunized.
“No doubt that some parents are concerned about vaccines,” said Rabalais. “But my sense is that some of that anxiety comes from misinformation that is regularly posted on the Internet.”
A growing number of parents are shunning vaccines based on a theory that vaccines cause autism, a suggestion which has been debunked over and over in academic journals. Other parents believe that vaccines can make children uncomfortable and too aggressive, a concern frequently raised by opponents of vaccination.
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Some opposition to vaccinations comes from faith. In February, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina presented the results of a study that found only 24% of 2-year-olds were up to date on their childhood vaccines, compared to 97% of 3-year-olds. According to the study, the reasons parents for not immunizing their children are as varied as they are impassioned.
Rabalais believes the measles virus itself should be an example of what can go wrong when parents aren’t immunized. It can be fatal for some and cause severe complications such as encephalitis and pneumonia.
“Children are more at risk if we don’t vaccinate them,” she said. “Most vaccine-preventable diseases have been eliminated from the United States, but that’s not true for every country in the world.”
Rabalais — who has a doctorate in immunology — says there is little else scientists can do to educate the public on the benefits of vaccines. Vaccines are one of the most successful public health programs in the world, she said, especially when it comes to cutting the rates of infectious diseases.
Every year, the United States adds more than 200,000 new cases of infectious diseases, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The “VAXXED” series is intended to be educational and will be printed in more than 20 languages.