Vaccines: An important conversation with Kimberly Martin, D.O.
A recent resurgence of measles and other childhood diseases in the U.S. has highlighted some parents’ concerns about immunizations. One of the worst measles outbreaks has been in New York City’s Orthodox Jewish community, but the CDC reports that measles cases have been confirmed in 28 states, including Oklahoma. The number of cases reported has jumped from 63 in 2010 to 1044 in 2019. Europe is experiencing a similar measles outbreak, causing concern for travelers.
And, as parents prepare their children to go back to school this month, one item on their checklist may be getting the required immunizations. Many parents, however, may be confused by information and misinformation about the safety of vaccines. To help provide parents with reliable, science-based answers to their questions on this important topic, we spoke with Kimberly Martin, D.O., OU Physicians-Tulsa pediatric infectious disease specialist.
TulsaKids: Can you start off by telling us what childhood diseases are making a comeback due to the anti-vaccination movement?
Dr. Martin: Measles, mumps and pertussis (whooping cough) are the major childhood illnesses that are making a comeback secondary to under-immunized children.
TulsaKids: What are the reasons why some parents choose not to vaccinate their children?
Dr. Martin: The main reasons that parents often voice to healthcare providers are religious reasons, personal beliefs or philosophical reasons, safety concerns, or a desire for more information regarding the vaccine or disease.
TulsaKids: From a medical perspective, is there any validity to these concerns?
Dr. Martin: I understand some parents may be nervous about the safety of vaccines but, from a medical perspective, all vaccinations are rigorously tested prior to being licensed for use by the Food and Drug Administration, so we know they are safe. In addition, vaccines have proven to be effective in preventing known illnesses and saving lives. Since the early 1920s, it is estimated that vaccination programs have prevented over 100 million cases of contagious disease and countless deaths.
TulsaKids: Why is it important for children to be vaccinated?
Dr. Martin: It is important for children to be vaccinated to prevent infections which can lead to very serious illness, disability or even death. Today, vaccines protect children and teens from 16 diseases including measles, chicken pox, Hepatitis B, Meningococcal meningitis and many more. Additionally, immunized children provide herd immunity or some degree of protection to other children who may not be able to receive vaccination because of age, underlying immune problems or those affected by cancer or HIV.
TulsaKids: Some parents believe that it is best to space out their children’s vaccines. Do you advise doing this and are there any risks associated with administering multiple vaccines within the same time frame?
Dr. Martin: I strongly recommend that parents follow the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] CDC’s vaccine schedule because it is the one that has been tested to give the very best immunity possible. Using the recommended vaccine schedule has not shown any increased risk when giving multiple vaccines. Spacing vaccines out in a non-recommended way can actually harm a child since they may not be fully protected and vulnerable to disease.
TulsaKids: For adults who were vaccinated many years ago, are there any circumstances under which they should consider being vaccinated again? If so, are there specific vaccines that need to be re-administered after certain periods of time?
Dr. Martin: I recommend that adults discuss their vaccination needs with their healthcare provider as adults may require different vaccines based on their age, health status or place of employment. All adults who have not received a Tdap vaccination (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis) should receive one in their lifetime and then every 10 years thereafter should receive a tetanus booster. Tdap is an especially important vaccine for all adults who will be exposed to newborns to prevent the spread of pertussis to these vulnerable infants.
TulsaKids: What would you say to parents who are worried about vaccination safety and have been holding back from having their children vaccinated?
Dr. Martin: Vaccinations save lives and are an important part of normal pediatric care. If you have any questions about vaccine safety or the recommended schedule please discuss with your healthcare provider or consult the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/vaccines for detailed, scientifically based, information on each recommended vaccine.
TulsaKids: Are there any final thoughts on this topic that you’d like to share with our readers?
Dr. Martin: As a pediatrician, my main goal is to keep children safe and healthy, and vaccinations are the best way to do this. I speak for all healthcare providers in saying that we want to work in partnership with parents to protect children. With that in mind, please know that no question is too simple or too unimportant to answer. If you are unsure if your child is up to date on vaccinations, please call your healthcare provider for this information. If we work together, we can prevent children from becoming ill from vaccine-preventable illnesses.