Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Missed Vaccines Weaken 'Herd Immunity' In Children

Brendalee Flint did everything she could to keep her baby safe. She nourished her with breast milk; she gave her all the routine vaccines.
By 15 months old, Flint's daughter, Julieanna Metcalf, was walking, exploring and even saying her first few words. Then one day in the bath, while fighting what seemed like an ordinary stomach bug, Julieanna became so weak and floppy that she couldn't hold up her head.
Flint rushed the baby to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with meningitis, a swelling of the lining of the brain, caused by a severe case of Hib, or Haemophilus influenzae type b.
Parents who have never seen their children gasp for breath no longer fear these diseases and, in some cases, are delaying or skipping immunizations, says Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Many parents who reject vaccines do so because of the mistaken notions that they cause autism or overwhelm the immune system, Offit says.
That worries moms such as Flint, who learned that her daughter has a rare immune deficiency only after she contracted Hib. Because Julieanna doesn't respond to vaccines, she depends on other parents to keep germs out of circulation by vaccinating their kids, a phenomenon called "herd immunity."
"I just want everybody to know what can happen if you don't vaccinate your baby," Flint says. "It's not just your kid. When you get your child vaccinated, it helps to protect the other kids who don't have the ability to protect themselves."

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