Story last updated at 4:43 p.m. Thursday, October 17, 2002

Immunization important
I am a nurse practitioner who has spent a lot of time working and traveling in third world countries. I have seen children die of polio and measles. Therefore, it is completely incomprehensible to me that there is a sizable portion of our population (yes, right here in Homer) that is not immunizing their children, even though immunizations are readily available to all for free.

Vaccines have probably done more than any other medical advance to reduce childhood mortality and suffering. People living in the United States have the luxury of not having to worry about many diseases that are the stuff of nightmares in many parts of the world. Because (thanks to vaccines) we rarely see these illnesses, some of us act as if they don't exist. But they haven't gone away. They are still out there, waiting for a chance to pounce, as this latest pertussis (whooping cough) scare has proven.

The only reason that unimmunized children don't get sick more often is that the majority of children, thankfully, are immunized, resulting in what is known epidemiologically as a "herd immunity." The people who choose not to immunize their kids can get away with this only because so many of their fellow citizens have been immunized.

I am aware that vaccines aren't perfect, although they are much safer now than they were even several years ago. Although statistically there is only an infinitesimal chance that your child will have a bad reaction to a vaccine, that remote eventuality is enough to deter some parents from vaccinating their children. But if you consider the bigger picture, the risk/benefit ration of vaccines, there is no doubt that vaccinations are the best way to protect not only your children, but your community's children, from these devastating epidemics that still kill thousands of children worldwide.

So talk to your health care providers. Ask questions. Read the statistics. Make your decisions based on good science. Let's make Homer a safe place for all of us.

Elisabeth Brennand