Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
People turn to complementary and integrative health approaches to seek better health and well-being. Several studies have found an association between use of complementary health approaches and positive health behaviors such as getting regular exercise, not using tobacco products, and following a healthy diet. Use of these approaches also has been associated with higher rates of vaccination for influenza, pneumococcus, and hepatitis B among adults. Unfortunately, however, this may not be the case for vaccinations in children.
A 2010 NCCIH-funded study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal showed that children in Washington State who received care from complementary health providers were substantially less likely to get recommended immunizations and were more likely to be diagnosed with a vaccine-preventable disease. The investigators note that their findings do not provide an explanation for the association. It is possible that the study’s results reflect a tendency of some vaccine-hesitant parents to seek out complementary health professionals, but it might also reflect advice from these providers, or there may be another explanation. Nonetheless, as a physician and Director of NCCIH, I find these results troubling.
It is very difficult for most Americans to remember that polio and diphtheria regularly killed or permanently injured thousands of people in the United States every year, as recently as the last century. In fact, polio has been eradicated in the United States and diphtheria is very rare because of vaccinations. However, these diseases have not yet been eliminated worldwide and could easily return to the United States. The Washington State study is especially troubling in light of reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that there has been a resurgence of certain vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States in recent years. There is a concern about the return of both measles and whooping cough. Since 2010, the CDC has seen between 10,000 and 50,000 cases of whooping cough each year in the United States, with cases reported in every state.
There continues to be a lot of misinformation about vaccine safety on the Internet and elsewhere, and I encourage you to get the facts about vaccines. The CDC has reliable information on vaccines, based on scientific studies, and addresses questions about vaccine-preventable diseases, how vaccines work in the body, and safety concerns. The bottom line is that that vaccination is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children and teens from 16 potentially harmful diseases. Vaccine-preventable diseases can be very serious, may require hospitalization, or even be deadly - especially in infants and young children. I fully support the CDC’s current evidence-based recommendations for pediatric vaccinations, and I urge parents to safeguard their children by following these recommendations. I also urge all health care provider organizations—including complementary health organizations—to raise vaccine awareness among their members, and enlist them in efforts to help increase adherence to childhood vaccinations.
It is essential that we recognize the extraordinary success of childhood vaccination, and that we look to the abundant scientific evidence that documents the safety and vital role of vaccines in the health of our Nation.