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Doctor: Increased vaccine hesitancy a cause concern
Times Leader - 9/16/2023
Sep. 16—WILKES-BARRE — A recent trend of vaccine hesitancy has one local pediatrician concerned for the future of the community.
Alberto Marante, Wilkes-Barre Wright Center for Community Health's Director of Public Health Services and pediatrician, has noticed that a concerning number of patients are opting not to vaccinate their children.
"I've recently come across several families already that have expressed to me that, since COVID, they have become hesitant to vaccinate their kids period," Marante said.
According to him, the hesitancy is common in families that were vaccinating their children up until the pandemic, and, now, they're simply saying no more.
"It's concerning," Marante said.
Vaccines, especially those given to children in their adolescent years, protect against serious illnesses, such as chicken pox, polio and more. When large groups of community members vaccinate against a disease, they can create herd immunity, which is the resistance to the spread of an infectious disease within a population.
Herd immunity can lead to the eradication of diseases. Choosing not to vaccinate against diseases sets up a dangerous scenario for the entire community, Marante said.
"One of the most eminent health risks is that there are a number of illnesses — specifically pediatric illnesses — that, over the years, have virtually disappeared," he said.
One of the diseases, he said, is polio — a viral infection causing nerve injury which leads to partial or full paralysis.
"Last century, polio was a devastating disease that caused paralysis and lifelong illnesses. People had to use iron lungs — I mean, no one knows what that is anymore, but those are things that are unheard of and, now, some of these things are coming back," Marante said.
"If children are not vaccinated against polio and enough time goes by, when polio comes back into the community, then you've got a disaster," he added.
The increase in vaccine hesitancy might have a link to the pandemic and the COVID-19 vaccine, Marante said. According to him, the public's general mistrust of science has fed into this fear of all vaccines.
"In many cases, it's rightfully so because the vaccine was basically pushed onto society and there were very little options given to people," Marante said.
Another link to vaccine hesitancy might find its roots in social media, he said.
"Social media is a big contributor to vaccine concerns because you have people posting things that are completely untrue," Marante said.
Still, yet, others might find worry in fictitious studies shown to correlate vaccines with developmental disorders, which Marante ensures is simply not the case.
"In the late 90s, there was a medical study that came out that alleged a connection between MMR vaccines and autism, when, in reality, what happened with that study was that it was a flawed study, and it was debunked in the early 2000s after it was shown to be inaccurate," he said.
For parents who are hesitant to vaccinate their children, Marante says the best approach is to educate about what vaccines are, what they do and how they work.
"It's best not to be confrontational, and recognize that it is their right to refuse vaccines in their child, but also confront them with the reality that there are some real life-threatening illnesses out there that children can acquire," he said.
According to Marante, there are a number of resources available for those who are vaccine hesitant. The biggest one that he recommends is a vaccine education page on the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia website, which can be located at https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center.
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