By Michael Petrosky, M.D., Pediatric Alliance — Wexford



Vaccines save lives and prevent lots of serious illnesses. I am fortunate enough to have been trained during the vaccine era and not have to dread going into the hospital to see young children die or become permanently disabled from Strep. pneumo or H. flu meningitis. However, it doesn’t mean that I was immune from seeing a patient succumb from a vaccine-preventable illness. I trained in Akron and central Ohio has a large Amish population that does not get children immunized. It was only in this subset that I witnessed these life-threatening infections not seen in patients who had their full complement of immunizations. As I was leaving our neighbors to the West to come back home, I did have to smile. Some in the Amish community had started to receive vaccines as they had seen the horrors that can be prevented.

The primary goal of producing vaccines is not to make money. They are essential components in combating disease in the modern world. The great local hero and polio vaccine developer, Jonas Salk, stated numerous times for his desire to give his development away for free to benefit the human population. Vaccines are meant to be given to someone 1-4 times throughout an individual’s life, not to be taken daily by a patient for 40-50 years of his or her life, like a cholesterol medicine. That is where the profit lies for pharmaceutical companies. Additionally, once a vaccine has been used to its fullest potential and a disease is eradicated, it no longer becomes necessary. Just look at the smallpox vaccine. There is no money to be made there.

Vaccines are studied and tested stringently before being released to the public and are closely monitored afterwards. With the original rotavirus vaccine, Rotashield, post-marketing surveillance noted an increased risk of intussusception in a very small number of children who received it. It was quickly taken off the market and more research was done to make a safer vaccine. What was the noted difference? Compared to the population at large, only 1-2 additional cases of intussusception occurred for every 10,000 infants that were immunized. If this vaccine was removed for this tiny change in numbers, why would we have vaccines available that “cause” so many horrible conditions? In short, we don’t. The current vaccine schedule has been studied and monitored and found to be extremely safe. I am not saying that vaccines are 100% safe; no one can make that claim about anything. I am saying, just like with everything else in medicine, one has to weigh risks and benefits. Does taking ibuprofen for a headache outweigh the risks of potential acute kidney injury? I would say in most cases it does. The same thing goes for vaccines. Although, I would not want to see any child develop intussusception, how many lives, hospital days, lost days of work, etc. did the vaccine save during this span?

Right now, I find the conversation surrounding vaccines in a sad state as it has become so politicized and polarizing. The fact is, the topic of vaccines as a safety issue at heart seems to have been forgotten. Knowing that vaccines protect people from death and disease, why do we treat it any differently than other issues regarding our well-being? I am not going to ignore or disregard my Hippocratic Oath when I hear that a 5-year-old child is riding in the front seat of the car, a loaded gun is left lying around in a house with a toddler, or a parent is co-sleeping with her newborn infant. These situations need to be addressed at each and every visit. The same must be true for vaccine discussions. It is our job as pediatricians and family physicians to talk about immunizations with all our patients and stress the importance of being immunized. It is easy to avoid the topic altogether, especially knowing a family which may have refused vaccines in the past, but it is not about doing what is easy or popular — it is about doing what is right. I imagine nearly everyone in the medical field knows and believes that vaccinating children is the right thing to do.

I encourage us, as champions for the children we care for, to be united in our push to get as many children vaccinated as possible. That means having these important talks about vaccinations that are due or past-due at every visit, having parents sign waivers when refusing, and not filling out personal exemptions for refusing vaccines. With the non-vaccination problem as large as it is now, we need as strong and resilient a front as possible to help resolve it.


*** Dr. Michael Petrosky sees patients at the Pediatric Alliance Wexford office, located in the Wexford AHN Health and Wellness Pavilion.