From Jan Anderson of Charlotte, in response to “The vaccination question” (March 1):
I was appalled by the article on vaccines in Sunday’s Observer which highlighted the heartbreaking story of one child – for it is sure to make even more parents afraid to vaccinate their children. Though the story said vaccinations are generally safe, I felt like it did not do enough to drive home the terrible price our society would pay if more and more people chose not to vaccinate. I know from personal experience what happens when everyone is not vaccinated.
I was stricken with polio in 1950 when I was about 1 year old during one of the last epidemics before the polio vaccine was available. I lost 90 percent of the muscles in my right leg and my parents were told I would never walk. Thanks to the March of Dimes, I went to Warm Springs, Georgia, for several operations before I was five. Doctors transplanted muscles so I was able to walk without braces and crutches. Even though my right leg is an inch and a half shorter than the left and I now walk with a limp, I know how lucky I am.
In the early 1950s, before the Salk vaccine, more than 50,000 people a year were stricken with polio in the United States. If you contracted the virus, you had a 48 percent chance of dying or having permanent paralysis. The highly contagious virus caused rampant fear, closing public gathering places throughout the nation. The epidemics only stopped after nearly everyone in the country was vaccinated during a massive effort in the late 1950s. There has not been a case of wild polio in the United States since 1979.
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Vaccines save thousands of lives
Without continued immunization programs in which almost all children are vaccinated, the disease will return. No vaccine is 100 percent safe. But we should not let the rare exceptions, heartbreaking though they are, obscure the need for universal immunization. Vaccines are truly benefiting our society, saving thousands of lives. From an individual point of view, parents who choose not to vaccinate are not necessarily protecting their children. They could be exposing them to disfigurement, disability and a shortened life caused by a variety of dangerous viruses. They also are putting other children at risk.
As a community, we need to provide care for those who experience adverse reactions to vaccines. (The vaccine court does just that.) We also should push for more research on ways to lessen risks. But unless there is a compelling reason not to, we must insist that all healthy children be vaccinated – for the greater good of all. If we don’t, increasing numbers of families will endure the same kind of trauma that mine did.
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