Oregon’s recent measles outbreak brought national attention to the Portland-metro area and a renewed focus on making sure our school-age children are well-protected against future preventable illness epidemics. Understanding what’s myth and what’s fact is important as you make choices around your child’s safety and health, particularly when it comes to vaccines.

Myth #1: Vaccines aren’t necessary once my child reaches school age.

Fact: Thank goodness we’ve significantly reduced how many vaccine-preventable illnesses physicians see yearly in Oregon over the past century. Just because diseases are rare, though, doesn’t mean they don’t exist — even in populations of healthy, low-risk, school-age kids. If we stop vaccinating because we stop seeing a disease in the community, that disease will return. Take our recent measles virus outbreak, for example. With relatively low vaccination rates in our area, measles was able to make a comeback, affecting previously healthy children. If we want to prevent future invasions from diseases like measles, we have to reduce the number of cracks in our metaphorical fortress walls, making it harder for vaccine-preventable illnesses to
break in. 

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 Myth #2: Vaccines are just a way for pharmaceutical companies to make money.

Fact: Pharmaceutical companies do make a lot of money on the products they manufacture — it’s a trillion-dollar, worldwide industry — but hardly any of that money comes from vaccines. In fact, vaccines only account for 2-3 percent of pharmaceutical sales. Drug companies make the vast majority of their money selling drugs that treat, not prevent, diseases.  

Myth #3: There are still a lot of safety concerns about vaccines.

Fact: Just like any other mom, I’m a skeptic about what I put into my kids’ bodies. When it comes to vaccines, though, the evidence is clear: The risks of not vaccinating far outweigh the very small risks of giving vaccines. Of course, vaccines can cause harm — all medicines can — but no vaccine currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control has been found to cause more harm than the disease it’s protecting against.  

Myth #4: My child will be protected from vaccine-preventable illnesses as long as everyone around him gets vaccinated.

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Fact: Herd immunity is real. When most people in a community are vaccinated against a disease, it makes it harder for that disease to spread, protecting the few people who did not receive immunity or, more importantly, who couldn’t (such as infants, pregnant women and other immunocompromised patients). However vaccination rates must be extremely high for herd immunity to work. For diseases like measles and pertussis, almost everyone in the community has to be vaccinated — 90-95 percent — for non-immune people to be protected. Our vaccination rates in Oregon are nowhere near those benchmarks, putting us at high risk for outbreaks. 

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