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Vaccines benefit everyone, save lives

News of dangerous diseases diagnosed in Jackson County has health officials concerned, and for good reason. It should concern parents, too, but too many still resist vaccinating their children.

The Jackson County Public Health Division has been notified of four confirmed cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, and 15 cases of chicken pox since Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, the diseases are more prevalent at schools with low immunization rates.

Parents are understandably cautious about subjecting their children to vaccines, and there is some real risk, although it is extremely small. Too many parents, however, fall prey to false and misleading claims about vaccine safety.

 No medical procedure, medication or vaccine is entirely without risk. Neither is driving to work in the morning or putting your child on a school bus, but we do these things anyway.

Parents who refuse to vaccinate may think only their children are at risk, but that is far from the case. In the most recent outbreaks, those at risk include very young infants, pregnant women, the sick and the elderly.

Whooping cough can be a serious illness for anyone who contracts it, with a violent cough that can linger for weeks. It can potentially kill infants too young to be vaccinated.

Chicken pox, once a rite of passage for many children, is now preventable with a vaccine. Again, most cases are not life-threatening. But an unvaccinated pregnant woman — who may have school-age children at home — can suffer complications including pneumonia, and the disease can cause serious birth defects or life-threatening infections in her unborn child.

In addition to these vulnerable populations, some individuals with chronic health conditions cannot be vaccinated, and are therefore at risk when otherwise healthy people go unvaccinated.

Parents have the responsibility and the right to make medical decisions for their children. But they should consider their children's relatives, neighbors and classmates as well. When vaccination rates drop, it makes disease outbreaks more likely, and puts far more people at risk than just those unvaccinated children.