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Opinion: Routine childhood immunizations are safe

As a pediatrician caring for our youngest Missourians for the last 40 years, I am proud to have helped generations of families raise healthy children. A member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) throughout my career, my patients have benefitted from my following the evidence-based guidelines that the AAP researches and publishes. Every facet of a child’s health I help tend to — from cradle to college — is guided by the latest medical knowledge.

Such guidance includes routine childhood immunizations, a vital part of children’s health. In the exam room, these conversations are not controversial, and for good reason.

Pertussis is not partisan. Varicella does not care who you voted for. Diphtheria does not discriminate. It is crucial to the health of our children that our understanding of preventable diseases like these — and the tools we possess to fight them — are not tainted by partisan politics.

Vaccines are safe, effective, and save lives. The impact that routine childhood immunization has had on our health and our economy is palpable — with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that between 1994 and 2018, childhood vaccines have netted $1.9 trillion in total societal savings and prevented 419 million illnesses, 28.6 million hospitalizations, and 936,000 deaths.

Recommendations on routine childhood immunizations made by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — or ACIP — are co-developed by the AAP and our partners, reflecting broad consensus across medical specialties. Ultimately, these recommendations come from medical professionals who have dedicated their lives to the health and safety of their communities, including our children.

The story of routine childhood immunizations is a success story. I have witnessed this firsthand,
watching as diseases like measles and rubella were eliminated over the course of my 40-year career, thanks to widespread vaccination. Although we often take this for granted, it is undeniably the result of tireless hours of medical research, broad societal consensus, and common-sense health policy that puts health first.

We must continue to view routine child immunizations through this “health first” lens. Vaccines have made our patients, clinics, and communities safer. As we emerge from a once-in-a-century pandemic, we cannot undermine the importance of preventing serious disease.

The more than 1,000 pediatrician members of the Missouri Chapter of the American Academy of
Pediatrics believe that children should be free from the threat of vaccine-preventable illnesses in the places in which they live, learn, and play. We should not undermine that freedom by creating a safe haven for serious diseases in un- and under-vaccinated communities. As Missouri emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, we should redouble our commitment to ensuring that communities are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.