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History proves the importance of infant immunizations

This week is being recognized as National Infant Immunization Week. The purpose of proclaiming such a week is to promote the benefits of immunization.

There was a time when children died from measles. There was a time when children were paralyzed from polio. There was a time when children died from whooping cough.

There are people alive today who knew those children when they were children. There are people alive today who still live with the ramifications of polio. The progress scientists have made in creating vaccines and the widespread immunization programs in our country have made those memories just that, memories.

The history of vaccinations starts with an English physician, Edward Jenner. We should all be grateful to his patients that allowed him to experiment with their health. Jenner noted that women who worked with cows, milkmaids, rarely contracted smallpox.

However, they would have slight cases of cowpox. Jenner experimented using pus from cowpox lesions. He would inject it into the skin of a healthy person and then expose that person to smallpox. None of the people injected with the cowpox pus developed smallpox.

By the 1830s smallpox was rarely seen. But just like today, the further the memory of the illness, the greater perception that the illness is no longer a danger.

The same thing is happening with measles. Because of widespread immunization of children against measles there are people who do not realize that measles still is a powerful illness that can cause deafness as well as death.

In 1998, The Lancet magazine published an article that suggested that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine could contribute to the development of autism. There was intense media coverage. Many parents refused to allow their children to receive the vaccination.

In 2004 The Lancet published a retraction of the article. It was written by 10 of the 13 original authors. Since then the other authors have also retracted their stories. However, in the meantime, measles has reappeared as a life-threatening illness. Worldwide, the Centers for Disease Control reports there are an estimated 10 million cases and 197,000 deaths from measles each year.

In 1954, John F. Enders and Thomas C. Peebles isolated the measles virus. From their work came the vaccine to prevent the disease.

Prior to the vaccine it was estimated that every year in the United States 450 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, 7,000 had seizures and about 1,000 suffered permanent brain damage or deafness from measles. Those were the bad old days and we hope to never see them again.

The theme this year for Immunization Awareness Week is: Love them, protect them, immunize them. So for the love of your children, get them immunized.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Family & Friends. Contact her at