A Controversial New Strategy for Vaccinations

A new vaccination strategy shields babies by inoculating those around them. But will it work?
Doctors are now trying to "cocoon" infants that are too young to get shots by vaccinating family members around them. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dec 26, 2011· 1 MIN READ
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and their primary fearmongerer being stripped of his medical license, the anti-vaccination movement rages on.

According to an analysis by the AP last month, more than 1 in 20 kindergarteners are being opted out of their required vaccines to attend school. More than half of states have seen an uptick in exemptions over the past five years, with most in the West and Upper Midwest. Diseases that had once been nearly eradicated, like whooping cough, are now making a comeback, with more than 900 cases and 5 deaths reported last year in California alone.

Now doctors are offering up an alternative strategy. On Monday, a large group of U.S. doctors announced in the journal Pediatrics that they will allow pediatricians to offer vaccinations to close family members of babies who are too young to get the shots themselves. As reported by Reuters, the main focus of this "cocooning" strategy is to ensure enough of the population is getting their flu shots and TDaP vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.

To avoid embroiling themselves in the controversy, however, the new American Academy of Pediatrics report on cocooning is not directly recommending that pediatricians start offering parents shots.

"What it says is, if you choose to do it, this is ok," said the AAP's Dr. Herschel R. Lessin, who worked on the report. "They give flu shots in airports and pharmacies. There is really no reason why a licensed doctor can't give them also."

There are myriad reasons why parents are hesitant to give their children the required shots. Some doubt whether vaccines are effective. Others balk at the sheer number of shots, questioning the risks and side effects. And it's just easier to check a box than get a shot.

But for all of us that aren't Michele Bachmann, it's clear that vaccines have been extremely important to our nation's health and success. Even as Lessin acknowledged that the jury was still out on cocooning's effectiveness, he didn't shy away from the merits of vaccination.

"The goal here is to get everyone immunized," said Lessin to Reuters. "As pediatricians, we think immunization is the greatest thing in the history of mankind."