Mona Khanna, MD, MPH, discusses the role of vaccinations in public health. Dr. Mona also gives her opinion in the autism-vaccination debate.
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Immunizations and vaccinations have to be the most important intervention that we have for primary prevention. What that means is they prevent disease. And it's hard for us nowadays sometimes to understand that it's even hard for doctors now graduating from medical school to understand why it's so important to have these vaccinations. But if you talk to somebody who was around 30 or 40 years ago before we started these routine schedules of immunizations, those are the folks that saw the measles outbreaks. They saw kids dying from mumps. They saw what rubella did to a pregnant woman who was having a child. And whose child, then ultimately came out deformed and malformed. So, because we don’t have that context, it's easy for us to poo-poo vaccinations and immunizations and say, “Yes, it's just another thing that we do.” It's not another thing or the single most important preventive measure that we can do in this country for the safety and the health of public health. The best way to get information about vaccines really is from your pediatrician. Your pediatrician is very aware of the immunization schedule. It's a very predetermined, precalculated schedule of immunizations that children get from birth all the way until they are in their teens if you include the new cervical cancer vaccine. And that is a schedule that has been shown to afford the person maximum protection against that particular disease but spaced out widely enough so that it minimizes the discomfort to a child. We’ve single wave now of parents who think that vaccinations could be dangerous for their children and that refuse to get them vaccinated and there’s a couple of things that play here. The first is we have what we call a Vaccine Injury Program, the VIP and that is that manufacturers of vaccinations since they’re not a huge revenue generator, has made an agreement with the government that if there are proven, scientifically proven consequences of getting vaccines that the monetary rewards are controlled. They are limited. They are not this exorbitant $25 million awarded to the parents of a child who had a side effect of a particular vaccine and that’s because there really isn’t a lot of money in making vaccines, it’s more of a public health intervention. So, the driver is we’re doing good for the public, if not we’re going to make so much money. So, we have the Vaccine Injury Program in place. The second is that people are now considering not getting their children vaccinated because there has been rumors and associations and allegations of vaccines being linked to certain disorders. The most common of these associations that we hear about in the public is autism associated with mercury. Now mercury is a preservative. It’s a form of mercury that is put in the vaccine with the active ingredient that preserves and retains that vaccine for over a long period of time. What some people have done is they’ve come out and they have accused now vaccine manufacturers of tainting the vaccines so that that mercury preservative takes off a series of events in the child who’s immunized which then leads to autism, frank autism or an autism spectrum disorder. And that is very propagated through certain advocacy groups but in my opinion you really can’t make an allegation without looking at scientific evidence. And the Institute of Medicine, the premier medical establishment in this country actually just put out a report a few years ago and said that they looked at all the scientific data and there was not enough data to link autism or an autism spectrum disorder with the mercury preservative and vaccines. To my knowledge, there is no scientific evidence that links any kind of vaccine preservative or the vaccine itself to any kind of disorder, autism or autism spectrum disorder in large group of people. Now, you can always have a side effect on an individual level there’s always a consequence to somebody of either a vaccination, a medication, etcetera, etcetera. But what w