Baptist Infectious Disease Doctor Shares Thoughts on Recent Vaccine Discussions

Jan 19 • 2017

After a Cleveland Clinic doctor recently shared his opinion on vaccines, discussion around the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations took fire. Baptist Memorial Health Care’s Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, a specialist in internal medicine and infectious diseases, has shared his response to these concerns and what parents need to know about the importance of vaccinating their children.

A recent blog post from a Cleveland Clinic physician shared some negative information about vaccines. Can you elaborate on some of those comments and where that information came from?

People who have autism frequently are diagnosed at the age that we happen to give people vaccines. That timeframe leads to a circumstantial connection between the two things. To leap forward and say that there is a causative relationship between the two is not accurate. There is every bit as much data that autism causes vaccines as there is that vaccines cause autism. The Institute of Medicine has studied this and finally, some years ago, said, “We’re not going to study this anymore because we’re wasting money that could be used to study actual cures for autism.” There’s no data for it, so it’s time to move on and study things about autism that can actually help.

If parents are hesitant about vaccinating their child, what steps should they take to feel fully informed?

Everyone who can should get a trustworthy primary doctor/pediatrician. That’s such a huge factor in all of this – the individual primary doctor or pediatrician can direct people to data that would apply to their child or that would specifically answer their questions. They can also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, which goes over data on each vaccine, especially the vaccines people worry about. This is well backed-up, referenced data that can help people understand the actual information.

How have vaccines shaped our world today, and how does not getting vaccinated affect children and those around them?

The disadvantage people have today is that they don’t remember these diseases in the forms that killed and harmed people. I’m barely old enough to remember the measles vaccine that came out in 1963; before then, it probably killed or severely damaged close to 1,000 people a year in the United States. Only a small fraction of the people who received the vaccine could even claim to have been injured by the vaccine itself, assuming they are all correct. People also don’t realize that by encouraging vaccines, we’re trying to put ourselves out of business. One example to think about is smallpox. The last known case was in 1977. Once it was eradicated, we stopped giving the vaccine. It’s really a statistical no-brainer for vaccines. It’s a credit to them that we’ve forgotten how bad these diseases are. People used to have to fear them – not more than three generations ago, people were dying from these diseases.

The other thing to remember is that we have people in our population, our next door neighbors, in churches and synagogues, our friends and family, who cannot get vaccines because they have compromised immune systems. They have to helplessly rely on the rest of us to get our vaccines so they won’t get sick. It’s what we call herd immunity; unless more than 90% of the people around them are immune, they become much more susceptible to these illnesses. I would understand if there were good statistics saying otherwise, but the information out there only suggests that people who aren’t vaccinated might endanger our next door neighbor’s kid.

What advice would you give to people in the Mid-South when it comes to vaccines?

People have been clamoring for a vaccine for Ebola, West Nile, even Zika. In the past, people were clamoring for the ones against polio, measles, and smallpox. It’s silly to now decide these vaccines are not necessary. No one in their right mind would suggest a vaccine that is safe should not be given to protect our children. I have to take care of people who get sick, and occasionally die from, vaccine-preventable illnesses. Vaccines aren’t perfect, but from the standpoint of the people who care for these folks, it’s painful to think there are physicians out there fanning the flames of fear that go against what science would tell us.

If you have questions about vaccinations for yourself or your children, speak with your primary care doctor or pediatrician today for personalized recommendations.

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