A growing percentage of parents have genuine concerns over the number of vaccinations recommended for their infants by the medical community. But what are the consequences for all of us if these parents simply refuse to adhere to these recommendations? Vaccines: Calling the Shots, a new documentary produced by the award-winning PBS series NOVA, presents a balanced and clear-eyed view of this increasingly prevalent issue.
At the center of this disturbing narrative lies the recent outbreak of measles across the United States and other countries. Thanks to the effectiveness of widespread vaccinations, measles was thought to be eradicated by the year 2000. In fact, many seasoned medical professionals had never treated a single case of what was once a far too common infection. But all that changed when over 30,000 instances of measles erupted in Europe in 2011, and the infection soon made its way to the United States two years later.
The measles can attach itself to the unvaccinated in seconds. Children are the most vulnerable. "You don't have to cough. You just have to breathe," reports one emergency room physician featured in the film. "It's the worst kind of contagion. It's airborne."
Outbreaks such as this have usually only been witnessed in third-world countries where poverty and limited resources serve as a potent recipe for otherwise preventable infection and disease. Today, however, many of these cases are being found in the most affluent and privileged population pockets across the globe.
Some parents shun vaccinations based on the grounds of religious belief. Many others are legitimately concerned over the safety of administering up to 28 vaccinations on a child before they've even reached the age of two. What are the undesirable side effects involved, and can their child's immune system withstand such large quantities of vaccine?
Vaccines: Calling the Shots gives voice to the concerns of these parents, and features insights from several prominent subjects within the medical field who urge for more of an open dialogue between doctors and parents. As with so many aspects of life, education is key.
"The history of vaccines is clear," says Paul Offit, an infectious disease specialist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "If you start to decrease vaccine immunization rates, you start to see the diseases re-emerge. It's a history we don't seem to learn from."