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Parents refuse to vaccinate a child. Are others at risk?

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: My 2-year-old grandson's parents refuse to have him immunized. This is causing a huge problem with the parents of our other grandchildren.

Our 6-month-old granddaughter has not had all of her vaccinations yet, and her mother is worried about her being around the unimmunized 2-year-old. She is refusing to come to our home for the holidays if the unvaccinated child is there. We have several other grandchildren under the age of 10 whose parents are also concerned.

Someone is going to miss this family gathering.

How vulnerable is our youngest grandchild, who is still in the process of getting her first-year shots?

-- Frustrated and Concerned

Dear Frustrated: I turned to David Thoele, a pediatrician at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, for professional guidance.

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Dr. Thoele responds: "Back in the 'bad old days,' when everyone saw polio, measles, diphtheria and other diseases causing severe illness and death, few questioned the value of vaccines.

"With the widespread success of vaccinations, these diseases have almost disappeared, thanks to individual immunity (people who are immunized) and 'herd immunity.' Herd immunity means most people are vaccinated, so everyone is protected: the disease is so rare it can't spread. Herd immunity protects us all, but is especially important for people with weak immune systems, such as babies, people with cancer, HIV, and cystic fibrosis.

"If enough people don't vaccinate their children (vaccination rates have been decreasing), herd immunity will decrease, leading to outbreaks of these diseases. A recent outbreak of measles occurred in children who visited Disneyland -- and most who caught the disease were unvaccinated, or infants.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that: Unimmunized children are at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases, and also create risk of disease outbreaks in young infants and children who medically cannot be immunized."

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