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Can vaccines wipe out diseases?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Vaccination supporters believe that through vaccines, we can achieve what's referred to as herd immunity, making diseases so uncommon in the environment (the herd) that some are eventually eradicated. (And we no longer need the vaccine.) The best example is the global elimination of smallpox. We were very close to eliminating polio until a few countries declined immunization for several years, allowing it to resurface in their populations and then spread to others. Until those outbreaks can be eliminated, polio vaccination is still a necessity.

Those against vaccines, on the other hand, say that modern medical advances such as sanitation systems and personal hygiene have also played a major role in wiping out diseases, and children do not need to be vaccinated for diseases that they're at little risk of contracting or suffering life-threatening complications from.

I love the smallpox story but think it is unlikely to be repeated for many diseases. And vaccination against some organisms always will be needed. For example, vaccination against tetanus will always be needed, as this tetanus-causing organism is universally present in the soil. Until the smallpox story can be repeated for other diseases preventable by vaccines, I urge parents to protect their children according to current standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These schedules have considerable flexibility, and I urge you to discuss them with your pediatrician.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.