As a pediatrician, I see children admitted to my service each winter with pertussis, or whooping cough. These kids are miserable as uncontrollable, painful coughing makes their throats raw, and their parents are beside themselves with fear that their children may not make it through this horrible illness. As I stand at the bedside taking care of these stricken families, I am frustrated. The number of cases of pertussis has been creeping up every year. And virtually every one of these cases can be prevented.
Because vaccines have been so spectacularly successful at reducing the incidence of certain infections, many of today’s parents have never seen a case of whooping cough, measles or meningitis, and they may think it’s okay to refuse vaccination for their children. But these diseases are all still with us, and they’re having a resurgence as a result of declining vaccination rates. My fear is that your child will become very sick or might even die from an illness that is avoidable.
I would encourage parents to have a frank discussion with your child’s pediatrician about your concerns. But I would also encourage pediatricians to go beyond the science around vaccines – which unequivocally supports vaccination – and express our own fears about the clear and present danger that these diseases present to babies and young children. We all want the same thing: to keep children safe and healthy. But we can only do that if our fears are based in reality.
Ken Haller, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, Saint Louis University
pediatrician, SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center