It is a great time to be a pediatrician, thanks to advances in modern medical care. The child who remains paralyzed after contracting polio has his breathing supported with a compact modern ventilator instead of an iron lung. The infant with measles pneumonia is hospitalized in a room with state-of-the-art air handling equipment that will help prevent the spread of this highly contagious disease to other patients.
Powerful antibiotics have drastically reduced the mortality from bacterial meningitis, and new drugs and hearing aid technology have improved the quality of life for survivors who suffer from the common sequelae of seizures and hearing loss.
I hear from my colleagues in gynecologic oncology that the five-year survival rate for young women with human papilloma virus-induced cervical cancer has improved thanks to advances in radiation treatment and chemotherapy. In vitro fertilization allows men who became infertile following mumps infection to have families.
There is only one advance in modern medicine that separates the above fictional account from reality: vaccination.
Vaccines that can prevent these illnesses in the first place, render the other advanced technologies unnecessary.
Vaccines that we too often take for granted, or to which many parents and celebrities attribute unfounded adverse effects, have saved hundreds of millions of lives and prevented countless more adverse consequences of these diseases.
Thanks to vaccines that had been introduced by the time I was a young child, I have never seen a case of polio or diphtheria or smallpox.
And thanks to the development of newer vaccines that prevent cervical cancer and most cases of bacterial meningitis, many of our physician trainees will, later in their careers, look back and report that they have never seen a case of these devastating diseases, either.
Vaccines are among the most successful and cost effective tools we have to prevent disease and death.
They not only help prevent disease in vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious diseases.
As the American Academy of Pediatrics commemorates World Immunization Week, I am again thankful for the vaccines that make it a great time to be a pediatrician.
Sandra L. Fowler, M.D., MSc, FAAP
Professor of Pediatrics
Chief, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases
Medical University of South Carolina
Jonathan Lucas Street