Immunizations/Vaccines: Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction
There is a lot of buzz about vaccinations for children, both pro and con. People have raised many concerns about vaccine safety, for example: Do vaccines cause autism? Are the chemicals in vaccines harmful? Do vaccines impair the natural immune system? Should vaccines be given on an alternate schedule? And, are some vaccines no longer necessary? Even celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Amanda Peet have publicly voiced their opinions about vaccines. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation in the media about immunizations. As a parent, this can make decisions around vaccinations very confusing and anxiety provoking. Here we will discuss some of the most common concerns and questions parents have about vaccinations.

Why are vaccines important?
First of all, vaccines are very effective at preventing disease; they have reduced the number of infections from vaccine-preventable diseases by as much as 99 percent. Although some vaccines may not be 100 percent effective at preventing your child from getting an infection, it is important to know that a vaccinated child’s symptoms will be much less severe compared to those for an unvaccinated child.

Some of the diseases that vaccines prevent are still very common today. Two examples are Streptococcus pneumoniae (a common bacterial cause of ear infections and pneumonia) and rotavirus (a common viral cause of severe diarrhea and vomiting). Other diseases that vaccines prevent are no longer common because the vaccines have virtually eliminated the disease. These include polio .

So why do we need to continue vaccinating for diseases that are so rare? Because the viruses and bacteria that cause them are still circulating in this country and abroad. If you were exposed, you could get a serious disease. Unfortunately, we are seeing a reappearance of some of these “rare” diseases in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children. Also, vaccinating your child helps with herd or community immunity(. By vaccinating your child, you are also helping to protect your community and individuals who are too young to receive the vaccine or cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons.

Why are vaccines given on a specific schedule?
The vaccine schedule has been developed by top scientific experts and is reevaluated annually. The vaccine schedule is determined by two factors:

  • The age at which a child’s immune system can respond effectively to a vaccine
  • The earliest age possible to protect infants and young children, ages when they are most at-risk for becoming seriously ill with disease

By altering the vaccine schedule (either delaying giving a vaccine or spreading out the vaccines over a longer time period), you are putting your child at risk for delayed or incomplete protection at a time when your child’s immune system is the most vulnerable to disease. There is no scientific data that suggests spreading out or delaying the vaccines is safer for your child.

Are vaccines safe?

This is the question that concerns parents the most. There is a lot of misinformation on TV and the internet regarding vaccine safety. How do you know if the information you are getting from the media or internet is accurate? I recommend talking to your child’s doctor or health care provider to get the facts about vaccines. Vaccines all must go through rigorous testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to being released to the public.

Do vaccines cause autism?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “No. Scientific studies and reviews have found no relationship between vaccines and autism. Groups of experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), also agree that vaccines are not responsible for the number of children now recognized to have autism.”

Do vaccines impair the natural immune system?

According to the CDC, “Children are exposed to many foreign antigens every day. Eating food introduces new bacteria into the body, and numerous bacteria live in the mouth and nose, exposing the immune system to still more antigens. An upper respiratory viral infection exposes a child to 4 – 10 antigens, and a case of ‘strep throat’ to 25 – 50. According to Adverse Events Associated with Childhood Vaccines, a 1994 report from the IOM, “In the face of these normal events, it seems unlikely that the number of separate antigens contained in childhood vaccines . . . would represent an appreciable added burden on the immune system that would be immunosuppressive.” And, indeed, available scientific data show that simultaneous vaccination with multiple vaccines has no adverse effect on the normal childhood immune system.”

Conclusion

Vaccines have greatly advanced the protection of children and adults against serious diseases. The development and testing of vaccines by the FDA is at the highest of standards. Be aware that there is a lot of misinformation about vaccines in the media, TV, and internet. If you have concerns or questions, I recommend discussing them with your child’s doctor.

 Links & Resources »

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics
http://aap.org/healthtopics/immunizations.cfm
Children’s Health Topics: Immunizations/Vaccines

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/
Vaccines & Immunizations

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