90% full or 10% empty?

Vaccines are wonderful.

Vaccines are a problem.

Ninety per cent of the U.S. population has been vaccinated against most vaccine-preventable diseases. Ten per cent has not.

Is this glass 90% full or 10% empty?

As our society has improved its general health, and as vaccines have erradicated (smallpox) or come close to eliminating a multitude of infectious diseases our society has become somewhat complacent. The average person has never met anyone permanently paralyzed from polio, unable to breathe due to diphtheria, turning blue from pertussis (whooping cough), permanently deaf from hemophilus influenzae type b (hib) meningitis , or having lost a limb or several to meningococcemia. They have never seen the devastating lasting effects on the brain caused by measles, or children on ventilators due to pneumonia following chickenpox infection.

In fact, many physicians, especially those who completed training in the latest decade are unfamiliar with such illnesses, do not respect them as us old folks do, and may not be as adamant about vaccinating their susceptible patients as those of us who have seen children or adults die or become permanently disabled BECAUSE of a preventable infectious disease.  I recently learned that many newly trained infectious disease physicians can't even recognize the hallmarks of some of these contagious diseases--or don't think about them in their diagnostic considerations. Stories about potential adverse events thought to be caused by vaccines abound in all forms of media--print, TV, web, internet and word-of-mouth.

Parents are afraid.

And I don't blame them.

If I didn't know better, I might be afraid too. Giving my healthy vibrant child a shot to prevent something that seems very unlikely and MIGHT have some kind of significant side effect would trouble me greatly.

But it doesn't.

I have fully vaccinated my three children, and my daughter is fully vaccinating her 15 month-old child as well as protecting herself while pregnant with her next child from contracting influenza. She insisted her husband and all the adults who would be in contact with her oldest child received pertussis vaccine before he was born. Why?

Because her mom was a doctor? NO. Because it made sense and was absolutely the right thing to do.

Many of you have questions about vaccines (how are they made, how do they work?), vaccine-preventable diseases (how bad are they anyway?), vaccine schedules (why does my child need so many at the same time?), alternative schedules (can I spread them out and have the same benefit for my child?) and vaccine complications (what is the worst that can happen? Can vaccines cause you to get the disease?) .

Should pediatricians who believe vaccines are good medicine continue to care for patients in their practices who refuse vaccines? How can a physician in good conscience allow a child to leave his/her office unprotected, or allow unvaccinated patients to put others (such as those with cancer and following transplants) at risk.

I have heard from many parents, grandparents, teachers, relatives, and friends that pediatricians and family doctors don't seem to have the time to answer all your questions about vaccines.  Instead they might give you a brochure to read, or just say OK, or ask you to leave the practice.

You have questions and concerns. We have made some time to try to address them.

I therefore invite you to join us November 2, 2011 at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTC) (in Roanoke across Jefferson from RMH and HoneyTree) for our first ever VACCINE TOWN HALL.

Come with your questions and we will address as many as possible. This is free and open to the public. It doesn't matter who your child's regular physician or provider is. It doesn't matter if you don't even have any children. If you are interested in this topic, and would like to learn more, and participate in a conversation about vaccines, we would love to have you. We will also be answering questions via Twitter.

You can submit questions in advance by leaving comments here or on twitter via hashtag #vaxTH



About Dr. Ackerman

Alice Ackerman, MD, MBA, FAAP, FCCM is the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Carilion Clinic and Professor and Founding Chair of Pediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Dr. Ackerman is recognized nationally as an expert in pediatric critical care.

She has been at Carilion Clinic since June of 2007. Her primary goals are to enhance the health care of children in the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia, and is actively working to do this both as physician in chief of the children's hospital, as well as through involvement with many state-wide initiatives.

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