Dr. Heller: Vaccines save lives. Please don't ignore your doctors.

On the front page of the Seacoast Health section of the Sunday, Jan 29 Portsmouth Herald is a picture of a loving family who have decided to forgo vaccinations for their adorable daughter. What a shame that some parents can be so easily persuaded to ignore the recommendations of the vast majority of healthcare experts.

It is disheartening and frustrating to see how easily misinformation is accepted. Nowadays, it seems that almost everyone who posts his opinion on-line or elsewhere is an “expert” despite many having no actual formalized training or experience on the topic, and many lack the basic tenets of performing a valid critical analysis and deductive reasoning.

Do you know what this is?

This is a scene in the emergency polio ward at Haynes Memorial Hospital in Boston in 1955, showing critical victims lined up in iron lung respirators. The coffin-like devices helped those whose bodies were crippled by polio breathe artificially. Later in 1955, Jonas Salk discovered the vaccine for polio, which today has been eradicated from all but three countries.

These are people placed in an “iron lung” machine to keep them alive. Thousands of people lived their lives in these machines because the polio virus had weakened their diaphragm muscles so that they could not breathe well enough to stay alive without these machines. Once the polio vaccine came into widespread use in the 1960s, iron lung machines disappeared because polio disappeared.

In my 40-plus years in healthcare, I have never seen a patient with polio, nor have I seen a patient with smallpox or tetanus or diphtheria. Why? Because vaccination has made these diseases disappear. Epiglottitis and certain strains of meningococcal meningitis, both potentially life-threatening, have also disappeared in the 1990s because of vaccinations. The Human Papilloma Virus vaccine has reduced the incidence of cervical cancer by 65%, according to a recent study.

One could argue that measles and rubella (German measles) are rarely life-threatening. However, an unimmunized pregnant woman exposed to these could have catastrophic consequences for her unborn child. Both can be easily prevented through vaccines.

Your healthcare provider has taken an oath to always do what is in the best interest of his/her patients. Your healthcare provider has been trained to weigh the pros and cons and perform critical analysis of scientific data to recommend what is best for you. Please listen to them.

Two years ago, I lost two friends to one of the strains of COVID-19. They both had refused the COVID vaccine, preferring to achieve “natural immunity." Instead, they achieved “natural selection” and are now dead. “Natural” does not always mean “good." Poison ivy is natural, isn’t it?

Much research is now underway to try to develop a vaccine for malaria. If successful, such a vaccine could potentially prevent over 200 million cases of malaria and a half million malaria deaths that occur each year in third world countries.

Immunizations are one of the crowning achievements of the 20th and 21st century. Ignoring well-established vaccine recommendations puts you as well as the rest of us at increased risk. Please think about it and listen to the experts.

David R. Heller, DO, of Portsmouth, is a physician, board-certified in emergency medicine.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Dr. Heller: Vaccines save lives. Please don't ignore your doctors.