Clearly, the risk varies: Some vaccine-preventable diseases are especially dangerous, such as HIB, a bacterial infection that causes meningitis and kills as many as 6 percent of those infected. Chickenpox, on the other hand, rarely causes death. Other diseases, like polio, would only be a threat to U.S. residents if a traveler carried the virus from overseas.

Neglecting immunization doesn't just put a single person at risk of a contagious disease, though—that person becomes more likely to pass the illness on to someone else. The someone else might be a newborn too young to receive a whooping cough vaccine, or an elderly person who has a heightened chance of hospitalization or death if he or she catches seasonal flu. In a position statement affirming immunization, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, representing 16,000 doctors and dentists, note, "Those who model their lives in imitation of Christ should reflect on their obligation to take personal risk for the good of others."

The Indiana measles outbreak illustrated how quickly a rare but contagious disease can circulate among a group of unvaccinated people. The virus spread for two months while health officials worked to contain it, at an average cost of $4,932 per patient. Although only three people were hospitalized, and no one died, measles is a serious disease, responsible for an estimated 164,000 deaths globally in 2008 (down from 2.6 million in 1980, before broad vaccination efforts). Most measles deaths occur in children under 5.

In a follow-up study, researchers asked families affected by the Indiana outbreak whether the event had changed their negative view of vaccines. Most said no. Yet most said they were willing to quarantine their families if another disease outbreak occurred, and said they'd consider receiving at least some vaccines in the future, especially if traveling outside the country. Those steps would help protect them—and be good for their community, too.

(c) WORLD News Service. Used with permission.

Publucation date: October 1, 2012