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3May

Vaccines – A Personal Perspective

By Laurie Harris-Ford, M.D.


With furrowed brows and sometimes tearful eyes, parents ask about the safety of vaccines and if they are necessary. This is an emotionally charged debate, filled with strong opinions on both sides. Even with all the scientific data showing that vaccines are safe and effective and do not cause autism, questions still exist, even with well-read parents. I share my personal experience with them. As a Pediatrician of 30 years, I have lived through the era of development of several new vaccines.

I never lived in the time of polio with paralysis, iron lungs and frequent death; or in the time of tetanus with rigid bodies writhing in pain leading to a tortuous death. I never lived in the time of diphtheria with strangulating, swollen throats, suffocation, and death; or in the time of pertussis with babies with barking, choking, whooping coughs leading to hospitalization and death. Thankfully we have vaccines that prevent these horrible diseases.

I did live in the time of infants being admitted to the hospital every year with severe vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Most did survive in the US,  thankfully, but it was a very common cause of death in third world countries. Since the development of the Rotavirus vaccine, I now no longer have to see that.

I did live in the time of babies and children hospitalized each year with bacterial meningitis from Haemophilus Influenza. In many instances, these infections resulted in hearing loss, brain damage, and death. Since the development of the HIB vaccine, I now no longer have to see that.

I did live in the time of babies and children hospitalized each year with bacterial meningitis from Streptococcus pneumoniae. In many instances, these infections resulted in hearing loss, brain damage, and death. Since the development of the PCV13 vaccine, I now no longer have to see that.

Unfortunately, now, I may be living in the time of measles. We are seeing sporadic outbreaks in the United States. The virus is usually brought into a community by foreign travel and then spreads in a community that is highly unvaccinated. This germ causes extremely high, prolonged fever and rash, and may result in pneumonia, visual loss, encephalitis or death. This infection is preventable with the MMR vaccine.

So, my advice for parents concerned about the safety and necessity of vaccines is to please vaccinate their children. It is the most important safety measure to keep them free of serious disease.

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