Needless Death in California

The Ultimate Price of a Flawed Argument:
Five Infants Die in California for Lack of a Simple Shot

Now and then, an intervention will spark the suspicion of the community, and independent of any facts or evidence, will be considered potentially dangerous.   Even after decades of good observation and research demonstrating the intervention is safe, it will often be shunned or avoided simply out of suspicion.

Two prominent examples of the power of rumor and suspicion are the fluoridation of water and immunizations.  When doctors and dentists first noted that kids growing up in the Rockies had almost no cavities, and that adding fluoride to water could offer this protection to all children, the public reacted with a very emotional fear, initially articulated as a vague sense that adding fluoride to water was a terrorist-like move of secret Communist influence in the US government.  We may laugh at the irrationality of this reaction, but strong anti-fluoride sentiment still is very strong in our country, it just uses other arguments to stay alive.

The other example of the tragic power of irrational fear in blocking good help getting to children is the avoidance of immunizations.  Clearly, giving a child a shot is a traumatic event.  Jabbing someone with a needle is simply not a nice thing to do to anyone, it hurts, and it looks scary.  But few interventions have as solid a record of saving  lives as the key immunizations of childhood.  Because of immunizations, parents no longer really have to worry about infections posing a deadly risk to their infant and child.  Infant meningitis is nearly eliminated, polio is eliminated from the Western hemisphere, almost no one gets tetanus or diphtheria anymore.  And pertussis was in sharp decline.  Almost every child used to get measles, and 1 in 1000 of children with measles ended up with permanent, severe brain damage from the infection, but now almost no one gets measles, and so crippling the brain damage from measles is now nearly eliminated.

And yet, despite the blazing triumph of immunizations in stopping germs from hurting our children, the power of suspicion has worked its way, and a rapidly increasing number of children in the United States are not getting immunized.  I understand the suspicion.  Drug companies have simply squandered our trust with harmful, devious marketing practices that leave all of us unsure of what to believe from them.  And immunizations have been proliferating, with so many developed against relatively harmless illnesses, one has to wonder if the next immunization is being developed to save lives or make money.

But sadly, these suspicions have led many families to block their baby's access to basic immunizations that could save a life.

This trend is right now being tragically demonstrated in California.  Enough families have opted out of giving their babies pertussis immunization that right now a deadly epidemic of whooping cough rages in California.  As of June 23, 2010, nearly 1000 children have had documented cases of whooping cough, and now 5 babies are dead who did not need to die.  All the deaths were in infants under 3 months of age.  

Controversies are the very stuff of American entertainment.  Politics, scandals, medical controversies fill our airwaves, cables, and Internet pages.  It's sort of fun to question the party line, and actually an urgent priority  to protect one's family from suspicious vendors.  But this game of American dialogue and controversy becomes less entertaining when lives of infants hang in the balance.  The draw of the immunization controversy has lured good minds into the fray, with the Sears family of physicians and Dr. Oz offering "alternative" immunization schedules.  A rather disappointing spectacle has emerged in which the shock of a famous celebrity outweighs decades of good, solid scientific study on a subject.

But now, given the recent expose of the group that invented the suspicion that MMR causes autism (see post on this earlier this month), and now the death of five young infants in California, it is time to call the suspicion of basic immunizations for what it is:  groundless and dangerous.

Pertussis is a bacterial infection of the airway- nose, eyes, throat, and lungs.  In older children and adults, it can be harmless.  But the younger you are, the greater the chance it can kill you, even with modern ICU's and IV antibiotics available, as the tragedy of the 5 dead young infants in modern California sadly demonstrates.

This is precisely the reason we recommend protecting your newborn from deadly infections, as soon as the immunization can work.  In the case of pertussis, that age is 6-8 weeks old.

Bottom Line
Basic immunizations, like those that protect against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, and meningitis, offer protection to infants by as young as 6 weeks of age.   We urge families to protect their children from these potentially deadly diseases by no later than 2 months of age.

The ongoing epidemic in California dramatizes a very simple point:  these immunizations are incredibly safe and incredibly important.  Getting these shots causes no lasting harm, but not getting them can be deadly.

Again, I fully respect, and share, a deep distrust of the marketing of American pharmaceuticals.  We will continue, at Advanced Pediatrics, to do everything in our power to weigh every immunization's potential risks and benefits.  To that end we will continue to prohibit any solicitation or gifts from any pharmaceutical company, stay up-to-date on research related to immunizations, and provide as measured a judgement on each immunization as possible.

With all that in mind, let us find a way as a community to reject both the pressures of social movements and the marketing of corporations, and continue efforts to always re-focus our attention on the best interests of our children.  It is time to step away from the cynical movements spawned by the likes of Dr. Wakefield in England, and return to a calm, cool consideration of the facts: namely, the key basic immunizations (DTap, Hib, PCV) are very safe and withholding them presents a clear and present danger. 

Dr. Arthur Lavin

*Disclaimer* The comments contained in this electronic source of information do not constitute and are not designed to imply that they constitute any form of individual medical advice. The information provided is purely for informational purposes only and not relevant to any person's particular medical condition or situation. If you have any medical concerns about yourself or your family please contact your physician immediately. In order to provide our patients the best uninfluenced information that science has to offer,we do not accept samples of drugs, advertising tchotchkes, money, food, or any item from outside vendors.
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