A shot in the arm: Please, please don’t shun vaccines

I’m sure the consequences are unintended. The phrase “collateral damage” feels somehow cold and cruel, though, when you see the images. They show kids covered in red splotches and crazily itchy rashes. The misery is palpable in the expressions on the little faces.

The truth is that contagion can be cruel and indiscriminate.

As you’ve probably heard, measles cases have spiked recently. Outbreaks scattered across the U.S. in the first four months of 2014 have pushed case numbers to an 18-year high for the period.

Typically there are about 60 cases of measles diagnosed nationwide all year. Since Jan. 1, more than twice that many have been tallied in Illinois and a dozen other states. There were no cases reported here at all in 2012, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data.

Many of the outbreaks have been traced to people who’ve recently visited the Philippines, where several dozen people have died this year from measles complications. But being unprotected from preventable and potentially serious diseases absolutely makes the problem worse.

“Measles had been considered eradicated in the United States since 2000,” the DuPage County Health Department said in a statement issued earlier this week. “But (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) cites the growing number of unvaccinated children as a contributing factor to the increase in this disease.”

The thing about measles is it can have an advancement habit. It might turn into an ear infection or pneumonia — or encephalitis. Nobody wants to see their kid go through those things.

That’s not the only communicable misery on the rise recently. There’s also mumps. At least nine cases have been confirmed on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since spring break ended. In 2012, 32 cases were reported statewide all year. There have been more than twice that many in central Illinois since the start of 2014. An outbreak in central Ohio has hit nearly 300 people so far.

Sometimes mumps is no big deal. Sometimes it is. Complications can lead to encephalitis, meningitis, hearing loss or swelling of reproductive organs in those who have passed puberty.

“Adults who get mumps are more likely to have complications,” the CDC notes on its website.It’s true that no vaccine is completely effective in preventing disease. That’s why everyone is exposed to risk when not everyone is inoculated.

I understand a lot of new parents, and some seasoned ones, are adamant about avoiding vaccines. We have several in our immediate family. I know I’ll hear from some that I’m ill-informed, or worse. There are admittedly some nasty-sounding ingredients in some of these formulations, and certainly there are examples of unintended consequences of inoculation. But the research indicating the risk of the shot is vastly outweighed by the risk of the disease is abundantly compelling. Abundantly.

Also, the rules have changed again for signing kids up for school. Starting with the 2014-15 school year, Illinois parents will need to provide documentation that their children have received two doses each of rubella and mumps vaccines. One isn’t enough. Those whose kids are starting kindergarten, sixth or ninth grades will also have to prove their children have been vaccinated against chicken pox. A new requirement to be implemented in 2015-16 will call for documentation that students have had meningococcal vaccinations protecting them from meningitis and septic infection. I had a close friend die from that years ago, when both of us were in our second pregnancies.

Of course, nobody can tell parents what to do. And it’s certainly reasonable to proceed with great caution on any procedure that might carry even the remotest whiff of risk for our kids. But we do have options.

So moms and dads, I beg you to do your due diligence on this. Read the literature — and yes, please do pay attention to who paid for it (spoiler alert: it isn’t always BigPharm). You might decide some shots carry acceptable risk. You may conclude they’re all OK. But I think you’ll find the evidence against vaccines in their entirety just doesn’t add up.

Get your kids immunized. Please, please get it done.