Vaccines are safe: Time to communicate it

1137

HN logoBeing a parent is hard – probably the most difficult job those of us with children will ever have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also one of the best jobs – but it doesn’t come easy.

Should you formula or breast-feed? Use cloth or disposable diapers? The questions are never-ending.  In the early sleep-deprived days it’s astounding that new parents are able to make decisions on the most trivial of parenting issues – let alone deciding on whether or not to vaccinate their new baby.

Regardless of opinions on feeding, diapering, sleeping, schooling – one thing most parents have in common is that we want the best for our children and will do anything we can to keep them safe.

Prior to becoming a mom I didn’t give vaccination a second-thought.  I accepted and supported that vaccinations protect humans from terrible, highly infectious, potentially fatal diseases. I was vaccinated. Without question, my children would be too.

Then I actually became a mom. And people aren’t lying when they say that changes everything. I had a new purpose and it was to protect this amazing little human from everything I possibly could. It’s a tremendous responsibility – one that comes with a lot of pressure and second-guessing.

We are fortunate that we live in an information age –basically anything we want to know is just a few keystrokes away. We can educate ourselves on any topic, find a wealth of parenting advice and even join forums to discuss issues with other parents. Before bringing my baby to receive the first round of vaccinations I looked up possible side-effects and what to look for to detect adverse reactions.

There is some terrifying information about vaccinations online. It’s no wonder the anti-vaccination movement has made such headway. Being a strong supporter of vaccination, it wasn’t hard for me to find credible research refuting the wealth of misinformation and reasons I shouldn’t vaccinate my baby. But I can completely understand how some parents buy into it.

Back in 2011 I penned a column entitled “Immunization is not a bad word.” Not surprisingly, I received a lot of feedback.  One letter I received from a family physician in Ontario was quite disheartening.  In the column I stressed the role health care professionals have in educating parents and dispelling the myths about the dangers of vaccines. This family physician disagreed and believed it was not his job to educate parents saying he did not have time to spend with parents – they should be able to sort through what is reliable information and what is not.

If it’s not the job of our doctor to help us make decisions about our health, and the health of our children then whose job is it? In many aspects of healthcare patients are expected and encouraged to actively participate and manage their own care – if we want engaged and informed patients we can’t then turn our backs on those who have questions about information they found online – no matter how misinformed.  Who can blame a parent for seeking out information online when their own doctor is not able or too busy to provide them with the information?

Recently, Public Health Ontario released a first-of-its-kind comprehensive assessment of vaccine safety in Ontario. The report aims to encourage ongoing assessment of vaccine safety and provide relevant and timely information for health professionals and the public about the safety of vaccines administered in Ontario.

In 2012 approximately 7.8 million publicly funded vaccine doses were distributed in Ontario. Of those, only 631 adverse events following vaccinations were reported. Of the 631 adverse events reported, most were mild. Only 56 serious events were reported – which represents 7.2 in every million doses distributed. Serious events after vaccines are extremely rare.

Are there risks associated with vaccines? Of course.  There are risks associated with leaving your house in the morning just as there are risks with every single medical procedure. It’s about weighing the risks and benefits.  Many scientific studies have demonstrated that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. Not one death was reported as a result of the 7.8 million vaccines distributed in Ontario. Not one. The same can’t be said for the diseases these vaccines prevent.

Many experts are warning Canada’s falling vaccination rates could lead to a public health crisis as once nearly eradicated diseases are reappearing. This month Hospital News takes an in depth look at the vaccine controversy in our cover story that looks at why vaccination rates are falling and what can be done about it. Hospital News ethicist provides an ethical analysis of a new and disturbing trend among pediatricians – discharging patients who refuse to immunize their children. On page 16 we provide a brief history of vaccines and Canadian innovation with highlights from an exhibit on display at the Museum of Health Care.

Vaccination is arguably the most effective health promotion tool we have in our arsenal. While the report on adverse events in Ontario is a good start, this information needs to be communicated to patients through their health care professional. We need to work harder to dispel the myths of the dangers of vaccines and it is most definitely the job of our doctors and health professionals to educate their patients.