I’m an Israeli pediatrician who treats thousands of children a year. Every mother and every father who knows me knows my opinion of the routine vaccinations administered to children. The parents who refuse and reject them get a learned, well-reasoned, motivational talk from me every time we meet – even if they came in to ask me to care of an ingrown toenail on one of their kid's feet. Ask them.
I’m obsessive. I argue and cite statistics, and if necessary, I scare them with horror stories of youngsters who have contracted measles and whooping cough and meningitis, from my days working in intensive care in Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
And in the end there’s always the punch line: A vaccination is a life-saving medicine. It is the medicine that has been researched more than any other medicine in the world, Otherwise I wouldn’t have made my way to the baby clinic about 30 times to vaccinate my four daughters.
Before a vaccine is administered in a routine fashion, it is tested in clinical trials, in a process that includes many regulatory stages that are designed to ensure its safety and effectiveness for years to come. And even then, there are sometimes mishaps. In 1977, for example, a triple vaccination (against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) from a defective batch left several children blind, deaf and disabled forever.
True, I reply to the slanderers: Vaccinations, like any medicine, can have side effects – pains at the site of injection, or fever. The more severe side effects are very rare.
If I know that the benefit of a vaccine is greater than the possible harm it can do – I will recommend it. And if I don’t know – I won’t recommend it, nor will I be vaccinated, and nor will I vaccinate my four daughters.
The most important rule in medicine is “First do no harm.” That means that I, as a doctor, am obligated to weigh the benefit versus the possible harm of every medical treatment, for every boy and girl, in order to make a well-considered decision before I recommend or don’t recommend a vaccination for the coronavirus. We must check:
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How many children have died from COVID-19 in Israel?
How many children have been hospitalized because of COVID-19 in Israel?
How many children have had to go on ventilators because of COVID-19?
How many children remained disabled because of COVID-19?
How many? None. No children at all.
On the other hand: What is the possible harm from such a vaccination?
I don’t yet know.
On how many children has the vaccine been tested?
I haven’t found any statistics.
For how long did they keep track of children who received the vaccination?
I don’t know.
But I do know that in order to save zero children from the harm inflicted by the pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Israeli Health Ministry in its wake, are willing to deviate from accepted regulatory rules, and to approve an impressive abbreviation of the testing time and administer a fast-tracked vaccine to everyone.
I hear that in the coming months the vaccines will be arriving and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already thinking of how to force all of us to be vaccinated and considering which sanctions to impose if we don't agree.
My logic says that in order to save zero children a year I’m not willing to recommend to any parent in the world to prick their child and introduce a substance that has not really been tested on kids the way it should be and as long as necessary.
Because let’s assume that in a few weeks or months from now we suddenly see damage in youngsters who received the vaccine. What will we say then? “Well, at least we saved zero children”?
Dr. Efrat Schurr is a pediatrician, the mother of four daughters.