How to Avert a Health Disaster

Last week the World Health Organization declared the spread of polio to be an international health emergency. Although there were only 406 cases reported last year, all it takes is for one child to contract the disease to spread it to other children who are not immunized. The number of cases, although small, has increased since 2012, and that is a cause for concern.

The WHO’s alarm should be a wake-up call to all those parents who refrain from immunizing their children. Unfortunately, it has become something of a vogue for parents in certain communities to not inoculate their children. Some parents blame the rise of autism, asthma, allergies, attention-deficit disorder and a host of other childhood disorders on vaccinations. Such fears have led to a dramatic increase in unvaccinated children. A 2012 study of 97,771 children in Portland found a 400 percent increase in children who were not receiving their vaccination on time — or not at all — since 2006.

But study after study has disproved any such linkage between autism and vaccinations. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found no connection between autism and vaccination, finding results similar to the conclusion reached by the Institute of Medicine in 2004.

Those withholding vaccinations from their children have cited the use of Thimerosal, a preservative used in vaccines, as a cause for autism, but that ingredient has been removed from every vaccine — except for the one against flu — for more than a decade. Furthermore, the studies have shown that there were no adverse effects even with the preservative.

Opponents to vaccinations have also pointed to all the foreign antigens injected into infants from the inoculations. While the prevalence of autism cases has seemed to be on the rise for the past two decades, the amount of antigens contained in newer vaccines has actually dropped. Besides, infants absorb thousands of antigens from the environment, anyway. Those antigens help boost immunity to many diseases. Vaccinations are performing the same functions, but are targeting deadly diseases such as polio and pertussis (whooping cough).

While some parents may not see the need for the chicken pox vaccine since the disease is generally not life-threatening, polio is a devastating virus, causing paralysis and even death. Until the polio vaccine was developed in 1955, thousands of children each year would contract the virus and live out their lives with various levels of physical disability, often severe. In 1952, 21,269 cases of paralytic polio were reported in United States. Thanks to the vaccine, the number of cases dropped to 31 by 1970. The last reported case of contracted polio in the U.S. was in 1979.

The key to keeping the deadly virus at bay is with high-levels of immunization among children.

That’s why the WHO urged three countries — Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria — to embark on a vigorous vaccination program in order to keep the disease from spreading globally. WHO also cited Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea as “posing an ongoing risk” to the spread of disease. No surprise there, as these nations are racked with conflict, revolution and/or extreme poverty; it’s little wonder that their health-care systems have been unable to achieve widespread compliance with polio vaccinations.

But there’s one more country, one that’s not embroiled in deadly strife nor facing rampant poverty, that the WHO mentioned as posing a polio risk to the rest of the global community: Israel. Why would Israel, with its first-rate and free medical care system, be a polio threat to the rest of the global community?

Apparently, traces of the virus were found in 85 samples of sewage in Southern Israel last year. Genetic testing of the viruses linked them to Pakistan, from where they likely spread to Egypt and then to Israel through the Sinai desert. Iraq and Syria are also geographically close and the breakdown of those countries’ public health-care systems should be of extreme concern to Israel.

In response to the threat, Israel embarked on a massive inoculation program in September, with a goal of immunizing one million children. Certainly, that program will limit the number of those who could be infected with the disease, and therefore reduce the risk to those who aren’t immunized. But that widespread immunization effort won’t help anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated and is infected with the disease either through contaminated water or sewage. In a global village, all it takes for a disease to spread is for someone infected to hop on a plane and land in a different region. In fact, the Center for Disease Control recommends that all U.S. citizens traveling to Israel be vaccinated, if they haven’t been already, and that they receive an additional booster vaccine.

Vaccinations are not pseudoscience. They are one of the triumphs of modern medicine. Ever since Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine in 1798, eradicating one of the deadliest diseases known to man, vaccinations have saved millions of lives. They have drastically lowered child mortality rates and spared generations from contracting diseases that had no cure. Parents who believe they are protecting their children by not vaccinating them are irresponsibly and inexcusably harming them.