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April 26, 2007

Health Outlook: Goal of vaccines is getting rid of disease

With new vaccines coming fast and furious out of the pipeline at the medical community, it is easy for us doctors to feel overloaded with new information to absorb. So I can only imagine what it must feel like for parents trying to keep up. “The Red Book,” a pediatrician’s bible when it comes to vaccine information, came out in 2006 and we are already giving more new vaccines since that edition was published. So a review of what’s new might be in order.

The goal with any vaccine program is disease eradication. The first disease to be successfully eradicated worldwide was smallpox, which has been gone since 1977.

Wild-type paralytic polio has not been seen in the Americas since 1991.

The congenital rubella syndrome and diphtheria had zero cases reported in 2004.

While that is great news, the danger is that some parents may become complacent — lulled by a false sense of security that rare diseases are no longer threats to our children’s health. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the excellent childhood vaccine program we have in this country is only as good as our ability to educate parents and deliver the shots on time to our kids.

Some of these “new” vaccines are simply the same vaccinations we had before, packaged to minimize the numbers of shots kids get.

An example of this is the combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella vaccine offered at 12 to 15 months and again on entrance to kindergarten.

Others were designed to give a booster to the adolescent’s waning immunity to certain diseases they were previously vaccinated against. This is the case with the new Tdap vaccine, which boosts a teen’s immunity to pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria.

Meningococcal meningitis, though quite rare, is potentially deadly. The MCV4 is a vaccine offered to teens on entrance into high school and college to prevent this most devastating illness.

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