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The “bad old days” are making a comeback, thanks to preventable illnesses

I sent off my DNA a few years ago, but nothing ever came of it—until recently. Thanks to DNA research, I finally snagged a new cousin and clues to my ancestor’s migration to the New World. 

Online archives and family tree sites have made it easier than ever to trace the footsteps of our ancestors. Birth, death, baptism, and marriage records tell the story of our forefathers and mothers who loved, hoped, and mourned ages ago.

Life today can be scary and complicated and hectic, so it’s easy to wish for the “good old days.” But piecing together the lives of my ancestors reveals these were also the “bad old days” when life was routinely cut short by illnesses and childbirth. Thanks to advances in public health and medicine, what used to be everyday challenges to survival are no longer major causes of death. Yes, we have lots of other things to worry about, but childbirth and infant mortality are no longer on the top of that list.  Vaccines, antibiotics, and improvements in sanitation have added years to our life expectancy.

Now fast forward to 2017. Public health officials in Minnesota are scrambling to contain a measles outbreak that has affected close to 80 children since January 1. Measles is a serious illness. It can cause pneumonia and respiratory failure, irreversible brain damage, and death. How is it possible that so many children in this country have not received a basic immunization that would protect them from this terrible disease?

Most parents nowadays have never lost a child to whooping cough, tetanus, measles, chicken pox, epiglottitis, or H. flu meningitis. These are all illnesses that routinely picked off our ancestors and are now vaccine preventable. Opponents to vaccinations continue to spread doubts about the safety of immunizations despite studies showing otherwise.

Parents who choose not to have their children immunized not only jeopardize the health and life of their own child, they also endanger the lives and health of our tiniest loved ones, babies too young to be vaccinated. As a pediatrician and parent, I have tremendous gratitude for the scientists who developed these vaccinations that are now a cornerstone of good health and long life.

I know this is a hot button and many parents will never be convinced that immunizations are safe. My hope is that those parents who are unsure about having their child immunized do their research, check their facts, find reputable sources of information, and talk with their pediatricians. As parents, we will always worry about our children’s health and safety, but in truth we now face far fewer obstacles to long life and good health.

There is no doubt in my mind that vaccines save lives. Take advantage of it!

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