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Family Health: Ask Dr. Rubin

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Q: Although immunizations are quite important for life-threatening diseases, what are the real benefits for immunizing for such things as chicken pox? Chicken pox is not life-threatening, so why should parents bother?

A: Yes, your child is subjected to many vaccines (up to fourteen, in many doses, in most kids during their first six years!). But each and every one of them is better than the disease. As for Chickenpox (varicella), this vaccine has been mired in controversy. However, seeing the facts may be useful. This illness is highly infectious—although the majority of cases lead to uncomfortable or painful rash and school (and parental work) absence, chickenpox may be most severe, even fatal. Prior to vaccination (which is highly effective with minimal side effects), there were approximately four million cases in the U.S. annually. Of these, some 10,000 cases needed hospitalizations (from such conditions as pneumonia, meningitis, etc.) and one hundred fatalities were recorded. The majority of these severe consequences were in children. And so, I strongly recommend this vaccine.

Q: What is the “real” harm of letting a small child taste alcohol? I know in Europe children are often given sips of their parents wine at dinner, or babies are allowed to dip pacifiers into beer and such. (We recently saw this when attending a wedding abroad.) I know many Americans deem this horribly irresponsible behavior, but I’ve often wondered if it is, or if it actually leads to irresponsible adult drinkers? What are your thoughts?

A: The question is quite a good one. Although there is a vast body of literature on the benefits of modest amounts of alcohol such as wine, and responsible teaching of such leading to responsible drinking habits now and in the future, culture and law in the U.S. leaves little room to address and test this issue. My personal feeling is that the all-too-common teenage and collegiate risk behaviors associated with alcohol abuse would be lessened with earlier onset education. My understanding is that we can learn a lot from our friends in France, where such a healthy lifestyle leads to healthier outcomes (most notably in regards to cardiovascular illness).

Family Health: Ask Dr. Rubin is published monthly. Each column features real questions from readers, and we invite other readers to respond with their thoughts and insights by posting comments. If you have a question for Dr. Mitchell Rubin, please send it to him care of the editor at Your question will be kept in the strictest of confidence.


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