But the data has consistently shown that the measles vaccine doesn't cause autism, he said. Measles, on the other hand, can cause brain damage, or even kill children, explained Green. And, while some parents may think that they don't have to worry about these diseases because most U.S. children are vaccinated, an outbreak for unvaccinated children might be only a plane ride away. Last spring, said Green, someone visiting from another country brought measles with them. They were in close proximity to an unvaccinated American family who then contracted the measles. The outbreak ended quickly and without any serious consequences, but others might be more severe, he warned.
"People forget that when there used to be measles that kids died, or they ended up with brain damage. The risk-to-benefit ratios with today's vaccines are tremendously slanted to the benefit side. And, yet between every one to three months, I see a child with a vaccine-preventable illness," said Green.
"The vaccines we have today are the safest vaccines we've ever had, and I hope that parents recognize that it is a matter of life and death, and that they choose to do everything they can to protect their children," said Kimberlin. "Time and time again, when immunization rates fall, diseases come back, and then the immunization rates go up again."
Learn more about childhood vaccines from the Nemours Foundation's KidsHealth Web site.
SOURCES: David W. Kimberlin, M.D., professor, pediatrics, Sergio Stagno Endowed Chair in Pediatric Infectious Diseases, and co-director, division of pediatric infectious diseases, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Michael Green, M.D., infectious disease specialist, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; January 2010 Pediatrics