Feature Archive

Get an 'A' in Vaccines

Shots=Healthy children

By D.A. Henderson
WebMD Feature

The rubber-gloved health-care workers who inject kids with disease-halting immunizations may have only themselves to blame.

Vaccines have proved so successful in eliminating their target diseases that some parents of school-aged children have gotten a bit lax about completing the complicated battery of injections. Not a good idea, say public health officials, because even relatively minor childhood infections such as chickenpox sometimes result in severe illness.

It's hard to believe, but not so long ago, parents used to organize gatherings to expose their children to the varicella zoster virus, thinking chickenpox was just a benign childhood disease, and that it was best for kids to get it over with.

"People thought it was a rite of passage," says Dr. Mary Glode, a professor of pediatric infectious disease and an infectious disease specialist at Denver's Children's Hospital. "There used to be chickenpox parties."

Sad to say, even five years after the varicella vaccine hit the market, the Denver hospital sees a child a day with chickenpox complications. One such youngster had been a healthy 8-year-old before contracting the illness, which normally runs its course in four days. The child was hospitalized for four months, comatose and paralyzed by a spinal-cord infection, a rare complication.