As pediatricians, one of the common topics of discussion we face is in regards to vaccinations. As a group, Dr. Ababio, Dr. Kumar, Dr. Alessia, Dr. Granoff and I whole-heartedly believe in the necessity, safety and effectiveness of vaccines. We want you as parents to have reliable, scientific, unbiased and ACCURATE information about how to keep your child safe and healthy. Together we hope in this blog post we can answer some common questions, dispel some myths and make you feel confident in your choice to vaccinate your children.
Vaccines originated as a way to offer the body protection from a disease without getting the illness. Ultimately, they save lives and prevent diseases from spreading. Vaccines mostly protect against sicknesses that are deadly (or have a possibility of being deadly) or can have severe consequences during or after the illness.
Is injecting a disease via vaccination into my child’s body safe?
Starting at birth, your child likely comes in contact with thousands (2,000 to 5,000 to be exact) of antigens – “bugs” or “germs” that cause disease – each day. The entire vaccine schedule put together gives your child about 150 antigens total; way less than what your child fights off on a daily basis (AAP Oct 2008). Even though we are injecting the vaccine antigens into the body as opposed to passive exposure in the environment, the amount and form of the vaccine antigens are safe and in no way overwhelm the immune system regardless of your child’s age. Your immune system doesn’t know the difference between an antigen that was acquired from chewing on the grocery cart handle versus one that was injected in the body from a vaccine.
In addition, all vaccines are rigorously tested (on thousands of people over years of research) before they are given. It is true that that process is not perfect either – for example, when the first version of the rotavirus vaccine came out it was noted that an increase number of intussusceptions (when the bowel telescopes into itself) were occurring. The vaccine was pulled immediately and re-formulated. We now have a new safe version of this vaccine. I share this example with you to show you that even though the process of testing may not be perfect, our medical system is constantly testing and re-examining the formulations, schedule and effectiveness of vaccines to make sure they are the best they can be.
Once a vaccine or vaccine schedule is introduced, it is only recommended to the public after being approved by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). That’s a lot of approvals needed from a lot of experts on disease.
There are so many vaccinations – can’t I space them out so I don’t overwhelm my child’s body?
The vaccine schedule is there for a reason – it gives your children the most protection as early as possible in their lives at a time when their immune system can best incorporate the added protection.
The schedule is created to account for when the immune system will best respond to a vaccine as well as the need to protect children at the earliest age possible. The booster shots are there to offer the most immunity possible to a certain disease(s) and work best when spaced out a certain amount – kind of like when you work out a certain muscle group, you need to give it a rest before working it again. We give the body a dose of vaccine, give it a break to account for the new “strength” the immune system is building, and then give another dose to keep boosting the strength of the immunity. We have figured out how many boosters are needed of specific vaccines after years of studies and research determining long-term effectiveness of each vaccine.
If you were to space out the vaccines onto a different schedule you are increasing the risk that your child could get or spread a vaccine preventable illness. Longer time than recommended between vaccines is longer time without protection. And again, remember you are in no way “overwhelming the immune system” by giving vaccines – give your immune system some credit here!
The vaccines we have created came about because there is a risk, no matter how small, of morbidity (getting the disease and its consequences) or mortality (death). The risk of getting a vaccine preventable disease and its possible consequences is much higher than the risk of significant side effects from vaccines – i.e. vaccines are safer than the disease itself.
Even though you, or a family member or friend, might have gotten chicken pox or measles or rubella or WHATEVER illness as a child and recovered without consequence, there are children who don’t fare as well. I think one of the saddest things I have seen as a pediatrician is a child in an ICU with a vaccine preventable illness with their parents hoping, wishing and praying for their child’s recovery. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone and that is why vaccinating is so important to us. These illnesses are preventable!
I’m still scared about the risk of autism – wasn’t that related to a preservative in the vaccines too?
We can conclusively say that there is no link regarding vaccines or their preservative components and autism.
The “vaccines causing autism” scare started years ago after an article was cited stating this correlation. That article has since been debunked – the physician who wrote it falsified evidence and has since has his medical license stripped. Even so, since the scare started, numerous studies have been done to analyze the risk of autism in relation to vaccines – and every study has found no link – zero, zip, zilch! It is true that the number of cases of autism is on the rise. The medical community is actively working on finding a reason for this. What we do know at this point, though, is that vaccines have not been the reason for the increase in the incidence of autism.
This autism scare changed the way the public viewed vaccines and really has altered medicine, in a very unfortunate way. The good that came out of this, though, is that we have now conducted even more, large population, long-term, scientific research studies on the safety of vaccines; and we keep finding that vaccines are safe and they save lives.
Of note, there was a fear of thimerosal (a preservative in some vaccines) being the cause of autism as well. Also found to not be true – but regardless, this component was taken out of routine childhood vaccines in 2001 while the research was being conducted. So no worries there either.
Can’t my child just rely on herd immunity to stay healthy?
This is unreliable and defeats the purpose of herd immunity. To keep herd immunity intact, >95 percent of the population has to be vaccinated. That remaining 5 percent should be reserved for children who cannot receive vaccines for reasons of severe medical consequence (for example, they don’t have working immune systems, post-chemotherapy, transplant recipients, etc). If people started relying on herd immunity that 95 percent would start to drop quickly and place everyone at increased risk of acquiring a vaccine preventable illness.
These diseases aren’t around anymore – why does my child need to get vaccinated against them?
They are around!
Data from the CDC – these are reported cases and there are likely more that go unreported.
Measles cases in the US in 2014: 288 thus far (highest number since 2000), 90 percent are among unvaccinated
Mumps cases in the US in 2014: 796 thus far
Pertussis (whooping cough) cases in the US in 2014: 9,964 thus far
I could go on, but you get the point. Even if in the US these illnesses didn’t exist, there is always a threat of acquiring them from travel – either traveling to a country where the disease is present (England, for example, has a huge risk for mumps) or people traveling to/visiting/immigrating to our country and bringing the disease to us.
True or False: My pediatrician gets a monetary bonus for giving my child vaccines.
We became pediatricians because we want to help kids stay healthy. Our recommendation to vaccinate your kids is based solely on what we as medical experts in pediatric healthcare think is best for your child’s health. That’s it! (Oh, and we all vaccinate our own kids by the way – we wouldn’t do that if we thought they were bad!)
If you would like more information on vaccines we recommend you visit one of these reliable sources: the CDC website http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/default.htm, the AAP website www.AAP.org or the AAP’s website for parents www.healthychildren.org.
Of course, you can always ask your pediatrician at any visit about vaccines as well – we do believe in them and would like to educate you on the truths and benefits of vaccinating your child. Please let us know if you have any questions.
Thanks for reading!