By Marrianne McMullen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs
When I was pregnant with my son, I was offered every screening and test imaginable. At 37, I was an old pregnant person by all medical definitions. I am not one, though, to automatically undergo every test offered. After doing some research and consulting with my caregivers, I opted out of most screenings, particularly the most invasive ones.
But once my healthy 8-pound little boy arrived, I didn’t hesitate about one set of medical procedures: immunizations.
In his very first hours, a few drops of blood were taken from Brendan’s heel for the newborn screening Visit disclaimer page for dozens of possible diseases and disorders. After that, we proceeded with the recommended schedule of immunizations Visit disclaimer page that would protect him against chickenpox, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, polio, German measles and many other diseases. (My pediatrician had a clever trick: She had me nurse Brendan while she gave him the shots. He barely flinched.)
As millions of children return to school this fall, parents will submit updated medical and immunization records. Some may find themselves questioning the safety of immunizations. The CDC publishes a helpful Parents’ Guide to Childhood Immunizations, and this short video of a pediatricia Visit disclaimer page n talking to a group of mothers should answer that and other concerns.
But here’s what’s different about making decisions about immunizations versus other types of health care: When I decided not to have certain tests when I was pregnant, only my family and I were affected. But decisions about immunization affect public health.
There’s a concept called “herd immunity Visit disclaimer page ,” and we all depend on it. Herd immunity limits the spread of a disease when a large enough percentage of the population is vaccinated against it. This indirectly protects unimmunized people. When the percentage of people vaccinated drops below a certain level – which varies from disease to disease – we no longer meet the herd immunity threshold and the spread of a previously rare disease becomes possible.
If we stopped vaccinating Visit disclaimer page , or even if our level of vaccination declined to specific levels, diseases that are almost unknown would return. More children would get sick and more would die.
When I was pregnant, I didn’t need to know if my baby had a genetic disorder. My husband and I would have managed and we would have loved him just the same. But I do need to know that he will not get any diseases that it is possible for us to prevent. And I need to know that we as a family are doing what we can to not only protect our own child, but also our community.
Immunization is a choice you make for your child and your family. It is also a choice you make for us all. Make a choice for public health.