In recent weeks, a deadly measles epidemic has swept through the United Kingdom. More than 800 people have been infected, and the death of a 25-year-old man in Wales has been linked to the disease. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that it could have been prevented—many of the people who got sick had not been vaccinated as children. Measles is one of 14 serious and often deadly diseases doctors recommend children get vaccinations for before age two.
The measles vaccine is usually administered as part of a compound vaccination called MMR that also protects against mumps and rubella. Other inoculations recommended for infants include diphtheria, several types of hepatitis, chickenpox, and whooping cough. Whooping cough is another disease that recently saw a large-scale outbreak as a result of inconsistent vaccination.
In fact, doctors estimate that tens of thousands of children and adults each year get diseases they wouldn’t have if they had been vaccinated. However, they also say that because the majority of people are vaccinated against these diseases, epidemics in the United States usually play themselves out relatively quickly. If it weren’t for the fact that a majority of people are immune, infections would spread much more rapidly and broadly.
However, vaccination is not without risk and, while they are recommended for all children who can safely receive them, it is not always possible to vaccinate every child. Vaccines are monitored for safety, but they sometimes have side effects. These can include soreness or redness around the injection site or a low-grade fever. Typically, when these do occur, they are minor and go away quickly. If you’re a parent worried about side effects, you can time inoculations—the recommended schedules are fairly flexible—so that the child doesn’t get too many injections all at once.
All in all, vaccination of children is among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools available. Vaccination is good for the child throughout his or her lifetime as well as for the community as a whole.