Immunization as a disease prevention method is one of those polarizing topics one’s almost afraid to step into for fear of being labeled ‘self-righteous.’ Trustworthy information is extremely sparse, so needless to say, disinformation and hearsay abound. For many Latino parents, emotions and attitudes such as fear of the vaccines and mistrust in the information they find are leading factors in lower compliance rates. These lower rates are further compounded when we take into consideration the fact that many in our community have no insurance and there’s a pervasive lack of awareness about which vaccines are important. All of these factors might contribute to the spread of diseases that are otherwise relatively easy to contain.
In order to address this potentially dangerous mix of factors, the Center for Disease Control – the United States Federal agency working to protect public health and safety – has been stepping their efforts to reach out to the general population and special efforts focused on the Latino community, including research to assess knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about vaccines.
Not surprisingly, their findings show that, like all parent groups, Latino parents’ attitudes about vaccines vary. “The vast majority of parents believe that vaccines are important for keeping children healthy and have a strong desire to protect their children from vaccine-preventable diseases,” says Dr. Iyabode Beysolow, a Medical Officer in the Immunization Services Division at the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “After talking with many Latino parents, we have found that they also want to learn more about the diseases that vaccines prevent.”
Their recommendation is always the same: they encourage parents to talk to their child’s doctor about their vaccine related questions and concerns. This is particularly important at times when there are threats for certain epidemics, as is the case with pertussis [commonly known as the whooping cough]. As of August 24, 2012, more than 26,000 pertussis cases have been reported to CDC for 2012, says Dr. Beysolow. “That’s more than twice as many as we had at the same time last year. In fact, it’s more than we had in each of the past five years. We may be on track for record high pertussis rates this year.”
Whooping cough is a serious disease and it is most serious in infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated. In general, more than half of babies younger than 1 year of age who get the disease need to be cared for in the hospital. And according to some studies, Dr. Beysolow says, Latino infants have an increased rate of whooping-cough compared with non-Hispanic infants.
So should we be worried that this will become an epidemic?
Good news is, pertussis is completely preventable through immunization. The CDC recommends that infants and babies should get the whooping-cough vaccine, DTaP, starting at 2 months of age; and that parents follow the recommended vaccine schedule. The U.S. vaccine schedule takes into account many factors, including how severe a disease is and how many people get the disease if there is no vaccine. “It’s important that Latino parents understand the immunization schedule because getting children the recommended vaccines on time provides the best protection to babies and young children,” concludes Dr. Beysolow.
Fact is, vaccines have prevented many deadly diseases like measles and even polio from making a dangerous comeback, and their disease-prevention benefits are much greater than the possible side effects for almost all children.
As a big believer in a parent’s right to make up their own mind as to how to raise their children, I’m not here to tell you what to do. Nor am I going to try to convince you that immunization is the only route to prevent disease. Whether you believe that vaccines are disease-fighting allies or that these routine shots could do more harm than good, your most powerful weapon is to be informed so you can make the best decision for your children.
Listed below there is a host of sites – in English and Spanish –that provide information and resources. Please check out these links, discuss the information with your partner and doctor, and share what you learn with other parents in your area. After all, you wouldn’t want to base your child’s health on hearsay, would you?
- CDC’s English website www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents,
- CDC’s Spanish website http://www.cdc.gov/espanol/vacunas
- Vaccines for Children (VFC) program: free vaccines for eligible children up to 19 years old http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc
- American Academy of Pediatrics also has parent-friendly website at http://www.healthychildren.org
What has been your experience with vaccines? Do you vaccinate your children? Let us know in the comments!
Elianne Ramos is Principal/CEO of Speak Hispanic Marketing and Vice-Chair, Marketing and PR for Latinos in Social Media (LATISM). Under LATISM, she is also Chief Editor of the LATISM blog, and hostess to weekly Twitter chats reaching over 18.8 million impressions. Follow her on Twitter @ergeekgoddess.