Back in 1984, a federal vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP) was successfully tested, and when the government approved it it was believed to be the only one of its kind at the time. In fact, the World Health Organization recommended DTaP for all young children. It was quickly adopted by the CDC and most states, and by the time the 1988 flu shot season came around the entire country was up to date.
The problem, however, is that since the DTaP vaccine was invented in the 1940’s, any subsequent necessary future vaccines to the bacteria used in the shot would likely have to be individually re-engineered. If that bothered you, you were probably not overly concerned when the second DTaP vaccine was developed in 1997. After all, virtually every medical system in the world uses the same diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. But apparently not everyone, especially not a lot of young parents.
Don’t get me wrong; in a country that has vaccinates 73 percent of its children by age 23, I’m not going to lose sleep over a controversial exemption to the vaccination mandate. But why was it that every time there’s an emerging ailment or disease that needs to be combated, parents prefer to wait, rather than get the shot. It’s impossible to say why. It may just be anecdotal, or in some ways disingenuous, but I’ve noticed that some young parents want to wait for the next new thing so that they can make sure they’re up to date and that their kids can compete for a seat in the pediatrician’s office to get the shot.
What seems a little peculiar is that the CDC is so certain that the latest required diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP) vaccine should be administered in the most time-efficient way possible, yet the wait times are about 10 minutes to get the shot through the first round. What if this were a new technology that could be artificially delayed until doctors’ attention could be given to overseeing the production and distribution of the new drug? Those who might be feeling the crunch of caring for their growing offspring during the wait might feel even worse about having to, and get angry.
The medical community takes great pride in knowing that the vaccines offered today are among the safest in the world. It is impossible to know how many children die today from measles as compared to the 20,000 who died due to measles in the United States in 2014. However, there is a meaningful risk to the use of vaccines in a country where close to 90 percent of children are fully vaccinated. I’m an OB/GYN and worry for the women of America, and know that we need to be especially vigilant when it comes to maternal health. Our maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world and it stands to reason that babies may die before the age of one because of an immunization problem, or because a parent has chosen to delay the vaccine.
If you want to avoid controversy, and who could blame you? The toenail fungus clinics probably won’t know the difference between the window or the shot and the trouble we may be facing if we wait until the next emerging disease to avoid procrastination.
Just like a miracle drug after a long, drawn out battle with side effects, pediatric vaccination is a wonder. Sadly, there may come a day when the challenge to obtain the current vaccine may be another miracle. And even more tragically, children may die from another disease. The one life that is made possible by ensuring that children are fully vaccinated is always worth the effort to ensure the risk of their death is as small as it can be.
Martin Hewett, MD, FACP is a pediatrician based in Bethesda, MD. He is the director of medical affairs for the Children’s National Medical Center.