Prof Dr. Max J. Coppes is momenteel hoogleraar kindergeneeskunde
aan de Universiteit van Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and medisch directeur van het Renown Kinderziekenhuis in Reno (staat Nevada). Max J Coppes werd in Leiden tot arts opgeleid en vervolgens in Utrecht tot kinderarts. In 1988 vertrok hij voor een jaar naar Toronto om zijn opleiding tot kinderoncoloog te voltooien, maar is sindsdien in Noord Amerika gebleven. Hij werkte naast Toronto respectievelijk in Cleveland, Calgary, Washington DC, Vancouver, en nu dus Reno . Hij is bovendien met Nederland verbonden als lid van de raad van commissarissen van het recentelijk geopend Prinses Maxima Centrum voor kinderkanker in Utrecht. Een kinderoncoloog die bijna een vluchtchirurg werd, is hij net zo comfortabel in een benedictijnenklooster als in een internationale meeting met over 10,000 gedelegeerden.
As a parent of 3, now adult children, I know that we parents want to do what is best for our children. That includes asking questions, challenging recommendations or making a decision that goes against the grain. Being a parent is a privilege, accepting responsibility for other human beings until they reach the maturity that allows them to carry their own. But with this privilege comes some serious obligations: to care, support, nurture, and mentor fellow human beings. No wonder parenting often turns out so much more difficult as it looked like before having children!
The decision whether or not to vaccinate (or immunize) children for some of the most common vaccine preventable diseases used to be a no brainer for most parents; it certainly was for us. More recently however we find that parents are asking questions before providing consent. I welcome this development, it certainly shows how serious parents take their responsibilities. Most parents provide consent, some give permission but still challenge the recommendations, and some decide to go against the grain. To be clear, all parents want to do what is best for their children. But do they when they refuse vaccinations?
The notion that voluntary exposure to an infectious agent could benefit a person by stimulating his/her immune system is over a thousand years old and goes back to China and India. It wasn’t introduced in Europe and America until the mid 1700s. Initially healthy people were exposed to agents capable of infecting them, carrying a very real risk that they would actually develop the full-blown disease rather then a milder form and immunity against it. In the 19th century Louis Pasteur led the way in developing techniques that resulted in vaccines that lost the ability to infect. This important development revolutionized our capability to develop immunity to several serious infections that used to kill thousands and cause serious complications in even greater numbers.
As a result of the advances made over the past decades, children neither have to get measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis, polio, tetanus, or diphtheria, nor suffer from the sometimes serious consequences these infections carry, including death. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963 for example, 500 Americans died annually of this viral infection. It actually is therefore true that vaccinations saves lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “vaccines given to infants and young children over the past two decades will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes”.
Concerns expressed by some parents include real and debunked side effects. There is no question that vaccinations result in side effects in some children. Common side effects (about one in four) include pain, redness, and tenderness at the injection site, and flue like symptoms. Very rarely serious side effects occur: allergic reaction (or anaphylaxis), seizures, high fever, joint pain or stiffness, pneumonia. It is however not true that the Measles, Mumps, Rubella or MMR vaccine causes autism as initially reported in 1998. The physician responsible for the fraudulent article that suggested such link, Dr. Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license in the UK for having falsified data.
I encourage each and every parent to discuss openly any concerns you may have about vaccinating your child, that is your job. In some rare cases (allergies, defective immune system) vaccinations may not be on your child’s best interest. But as you do think about this, you may wonder why I know of no pediatrician in Reno who has has skipped one single vaccine for their own children. If it is the best for their children, would it not be the best for yours?
Dr Max J Coppes
Physician-in-Chief Renown CHILDREN’S Hospital
Nell J Redfield Chair of Pediatrics, UNR Med