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Health & Exercise Forum

Vaccines and Children: What Every Parent Should Know, Part 2

Apr 15, 2019

Part 2 of 3

(Read Part 1)

This column is a monthly feature of “Health & Exercise Forum” in association with the students and faculty of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

Guest Author: Timothy D. Welby, MD – board certified pediatrician at Pediatrics of NEPA and associate professor of pediatrics at GCSOM.

Dr. Timothy Welby
Dr. Timothy Welby

For centuries, millions of adults and children died around the world of illnesses that are now preventable with vaccinations. In fact, just a generation ago, most Americans knew a family who lost a child to measles or pertussis (whooping cough). Those of that era also knew someone who had been paralyzed for life by childhood polio. But, thanks to modern medicine and science, this is no longer a common occurrence or fear. For example, in 2000, measles was eliminated in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, since 2000, outbreaks of these preventable diseases have reoccurred. In 2015, almost 200 cases of measles were reported at an amusement park in California. Last year, 18 cases were reported in New York in the Orthodox Jewish Communities and this year the count rises again. What do all these outbreaks have in common? Unvaccinated children!

The purpose of this column over the next few weeks is to discuss the prevention of common childhood diseases using vaccinations and to review potential side effects, both real and imagined.

Preventable Childhood Diseases

While this column is not intended to present all of the diseases that childhood vaccines can prevent, it is imperative to discuss those which are most prevalent and important.


Measles virus infection causes high fever (as high as 105 degrees), cough, red eyes and a classic rash. It is highly contagious. One in every thousand people who contract measles will get encephalitis, a dangerous inflammation of the brain, which often causes lifelong damage. One or two in every thousand people with measles will die from respiratory or neurological complications. Prior to the measles vaccination in the United States in the early 1960’s, millions of children got measles annually and about 500 children died every year in this country alone. Even today, in countries too poor to afford vaccines, or with an underdeveloped medical care system, 115,000 children die each year of the measles. While measles has been eradicated in the United States due to vaccination, outbreaks still occur when measles is brought back to the states by travelers coming home or by people who caught measles in their home country and travel to the U.S. These outbreaks can spread quickly and become very deadly in areas where immunization rates are low.

Rubella Virus or German Measles

Rubella Virus, or German Measles, is also highly contagious but usually causes a milder illness with fever, sore throat and a rash. However, its true danger is to infants in the womb. If a pregnant woman gets Rubella, the infant can die in the womb or shortly after birth. The infant is also at risk for congenital rubella syndrome, which can cause deafness, heart and brain defects and glaucoma. There is no cure for congenital rubella syndrome and before routine vaccinations for it in 1969, outbreaks were common. In 1964-1965, for example, an estimated 12 million people got rubella. 11,000 women lost babies in utero, 2,100 died at birth, and 20,000 were born with congenital rubella syndrome. Currently, about 10 people get rubella yearly in the U.S. and all of these cases were contracted outside the country.   

Hepatitis B Virus and Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Hepatitis B Virus and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) are unique among vaccine-preventable illnesses because they are a major cause of cancer in adults. Every year approximately 17,500 women and 9,300 men in the U.S. get diagnosed with cancers caused by HPV, and the most well known of these is cervical cancer in women and throat cancer in both men and women. It is well established that the current HPV vaccine used in adolescent girls and boys will prevent 90% of these cancers.

Hepatitis B virus causes infection of the liver. Symptoms of acute infection include vomiting, diarrhea and jaundice (yellow coloring of the skin). Some patients, children and adults, who get infected, progress to chronic hepatitis B infection which lasts for years and eventually can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer. 1800 deaths annually are directly related to this condition.

Influenza (Flu Virus)

Influenza or Flu Virus is an annually occurring illness that sweeps across the globe during the midwinter months in each hemisphere. Because the virus mutates (changes) every year and the vaccination only provides immunity for about 6 months, immunity against the flu must be repeated every year. Influenza virus causes fever, cough, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. It sometimes causes vomiting and diarrhea, more often in children than in adults. Unfortunately, antiviral medications used to combat the flu are not very effective, especially in young children, elderly and those at risk of getting seriously ill from the flu. Every year, about 100 children and thousands of adults die from the flu in the U.S.

Source: NEPA Vital Signs - The Journal of the Lackawanna County Medical Society

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” Next Week: Read Part 3 on “Vaccinations”

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.