Monday, February 23, 2009

Parents are wary of life-saving vaccinations for children

From Monsters and

Health News
By Bettina Levecke
Feb 23, 2009, 2:08 GMT

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Berlin/Marburg - A little prick of a needle provides a lot of protection. Vaccines have greatly reduced outbreaks of dangerous diseases worldwide, but experts warn that an increasing number of children today are inadequately immunized.

The Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) at the Berlin-based Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German federal institution responsible for disease control and prevention, recommends that children be inoculated against 12 diseases - including tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and polio during the first 24 months of their lives.

On February 15, 2000, the Federal Court of Justice, Germany's highest court in civil and criminal cases, ruled the 12 vaccinations to be the country's medical standard.

However, parents alone decide whether their child receives all 12 vaccines.

'Many parents are wary,' remarked Sigrid Ley-Koellstadt, a physician for the Marburg-based German Green Cross (DGK). They wonder which vaccinations are important and what is good for their child.

'In their search for answers, many parents use the internet and come across a lot of inaccurate information,' Ley-Koellstadt said. She urgently advised parents to consult a paediatrician or at least make sure that the informational pages they consult on the internet are certified.

'Vaccinations save lives,' she pointed out, adding that the need to immunize children should not be a matter of debate anymore. But, as the saying goes, 'Out of sight, out of mind.'

As many diseases have disappeared, a lot of people seemed inclined to think the threat they posed had passed, she noted.

This assumption is false, Ley-Koellstadt stressed. 'If a society isn't systematically immunized, these diseases return,' she said.

Take measles, for instance. To 'wipe out' this viral disease within a population, 95 per cent of the people have to be vaccinated against it. This percentage has not yet been reached in Germany. Consequently, measles epidemics repeatedly break out in various German states.

More than 30 cases of measles have been reported in the city-state of Hamburg since the start of 2009, and the RKI has registered isolated cases this year in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Bavaria. In the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, several schools were temporarily closed after students there came down with measles.

Measles is not an innocuous childhood illness; it carries the risk of serious complications.

'Measles encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) occurs in one in 1,000 cases of measles, and about every third infected child suffers permanent damage,' according to Martina Lenzen-Schulte, an author from the German city of Freiburg who specializes in medical topics.

In fact, the risk of serious or even fatal consequences from a measles infection is many times greater than possible side effects from a vaccination.

'Of course complications arise after vaccinations in certain cases, but they are far outweighed by the risk of not vaccinating,' Lenzen-Schulte said.

Parents should also be aware of their own vaccination status. In a survey by the Quarks and Co. science programme of the Cologne-based West German Broadcasting Corporation, about 25 per cent of adults who responded did not know whether they had been adequately vaccinated against smallpox, measles, mumps and rubella. Only 30 per cent were certain they had been vaccinated against pertussis.

'Especially given these circumstances, an infant's surroundings should be sheltered because the smallest ones are at the highest risk before they can be vaccinated,' Lenzen-Schulte said.

Physicians consequently recommend that parents not only check and update their children's vaccination calendar regularly, but their own as well.

Immunization also lowers the risk of infection in a society as a whole.

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