7 Reasons You Shouldn't Refuse or Delay Vaccines

checkupWhen it comes to kids and vaccines, I get nervous. I've written before about how while I want to trust vaccines and do vaccinate my children, each shot strikes fear in my heart. So I'm always searching for more information, hoping to have some of my worries relieved, however slightly, to let me know I'm doing the right thing.

Dr. Jana Shaw, assistant professor of Pediatric Infectious Disease at SUNY Upstate Medical University at Syracuse and member of the New York State Department of Health Immunization Expert Panel, is a mother and physician who believes strongly in the need for parents not only to vaccinate, but to do so on time and not follow a delayed schedule. Here she provides seven reasons parents should vaccinate their children. I'm not sure they will change anyone's mind who is adamantly against vaccines, but for some, like me, who are stuck somewhere in the middle of the debate, they provide some good fodder.


1. You Leave Your Child Vulnerable to Infections When They Need the Most Protection

You wouldn’t risk leaving your baby in a room full of other sick babies, so why would you want to leave him or her vulnerable to serious infections you can prevent?

We know that young children -- infants in particular -- are vulnerable to whooping cough (pertussis), Hemophilus influenzae B (HiB), and pneumococcal infections. It has been proven that adults (especially mothers) are the major source of whooping cough in their children. Also, Hib, pneumococcus, and meningococcus can be carried in the back of your throat without causing any symptoms to you and still result in severe infection, or death, for your baby. Infection of the brain, deafness, developmental delay, swelling of the throat with suffocation, severe pneumonia, internal bleeding, and death are all known and real complications of these infections, even in the era of modern medicine. 

Some parents argue that if everybody close to their baby is immunized, then their baby will stay protected. Unfortunately, this is only partially true. As I said above, adults can be carriers of deadly infections without even knowing it. And, although parents and grandparents may be committed to getting vaccinated when their new baby arrives, the rest of the community is not. We also know that even the best intended adults often miss vaccinations. This is particularly true of annual flu vaccinations -- and the flu still claims the lives of young children every year. In addition, the importation of measles from international travelers has resulted in outbreaks of the disease among unvaccinated children in U.S. communities. So, your baby can easily be infected with a vaccine-preventable infection even if you take many precautions but chose not to vaccinate your child.

2. The Risk of Getting a Disease Increases With Rising Rates of Vaccine Refusal

Outbreaks of certain diseases, once thought to be rare, like measles and pertussis (whooping cough), are now re-emerging at an alarming rate. In France, for example, measles have reached epidemic levels and resulted in measles importation to the U.S. This year there have been more outbreaks of measles in U.S. than in decades, and a majority of the hospitalized patients were not vaccinated.

If you don’t vaccinate your child, not only are you putting him or her at risk, but you’re also putting other family members and those who can’t be vaccinated -- due to health reasons or age -- at risk of contracting a disease. In addition, schools will exclude your child if they appear sick from, or are exposed to, one of these vaccine-preventable infections.

3. Vaccinations Are Safe and Undergo Strict Testing

All vaccines approved for babies and children have been well studied and verified safe. Many parents worry about vaccine side effects, and I can tell you that common side effects are mild and include pain and redness at the site of injection or fever. Serious side effects from a vaccine such as an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) are very rare. It is important to remember that the risk of severe illnesses and complications from vaccine-preventable infection (e.g. measles, whooping cough, polio) is far greater than any risk from the vaccination. A comprehensive list of side effects of each vaccine are available for you on the CDC website.

Moreover, all vaccines undergo an ongoing monitoring process, through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), once they are licensed and used by public. The information from VAERS confirms that vaccines remain among the safest interventions in medicine.

Anything we do in life has a risk. We know that the number one reason why 12- to19-year-old children die is from an unintentional injury. Three quarters of those are car accidents. Yet, we all let our young teens drive or be driven by a teen. For some reason the familiarity makes it appear to be less risky. Yet the opposite is true. Driving in a car is the riskiest activity for a young teen. Serious vaccine side effects, such as allergic reactions, occur far less frequently than deaths due to car accidents, cancer, heart disease, congenital problems, and poisoning. Often the serious reactions due to vaccines are so rare that it is hard to establish whether the reaction was caused by the vaccine. So, it is important to remember that not vaccinating your child is a risky choice that can lead to serious diseases and its consequences, such as death, brain damage, deafness, infertility, congenital birth defects, mental retardation, and blindness to name few.

Immunization is the safe and healthy choice for your child. I have seen children suffer or die from vaccine-preventable illnesses like influenza, measles, pneumococcal and meningococcal infections. As a mother and a pediatrician, it is inconceivable to me how some parents will deny the remarkable benefits of vaccination for their child.

4. Recent Media Concern About Autism Has Been Put to Rest

Earlier this year the media officially dismissed claims made by British physician and researcher, Andrew Wakefield, that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine was responsible for autism. It was found that Dr. Wakefield’s claims were not only wrong, but they were fraudulent. Dr. Wakefield manipulated his research data, received financial compensation from lawyers seeking settlement from vaccine manufactures, and conducted unethical research on young children to pursue his personal goals.

Unfortunately, due to the massive scare caused by the news coverage of Wakefield’s claims, outbreaks of measles have occurred around the world as a result of parental refusal of the measles vaccine. Dr. Wakefield has since not only lost his credibility, but also his medical license. It’s important that parents put this concern to rest. Time and time again, reliable scientific studies around the world prove that vaccines do not cause autism. The Autism Science Foundation, the most reputed organization involved in Autism research, also supports this conclusion.

5. Your Child Is Ready to Be Immunized

Even a 2-month-old baby is ready to handle vaccinations. Many parents worry that a vaccine won’t work at such a young age, or that a vaccine might overload a baby’s immune system. We know that vaccines work with very young children since we do not see vaccine-preventable infections among young immunized children. In addition, scientists measured immune responses to each vaccine among young children and showed that they had protective levels of antibodies to stop the infecting agent of interest.

Vaccines do not overwhelm the immune system. Every day your child is exposed through skin, breathing, and eating to millions of viruses and bacteria, and his or her body is handling it just fine. When we vaccinate children, we only deliver a small, yet sufficient, amount of molecules that will trigger a child’s immune system to produce protection.

6. Unvaccinated Children Die Every Year From Preventable Illnesses

A number of children die every year, even right here in the United States, because they were not immunized. The flu, Hib and pertussis (whooping cough) are just a few of those killers. California experienced large whooping cough outbreaks from 2009 to 2010. Sadly, some of those infants infected lost their lives. I can’t imagine the excruciating pain a parent must feel knowing their child died from an infection that they could have prevented with a simple vaccination. 

7.  Dr. Bob’s Alternative Vaccination Schedule Is Not Backed by Scientific Evidence

In 2007, as a response to parents’ concerns that vaccines were not safe, Dr. Robert Sears, also known as Dr. Bob, released a book with an alternative vaccine schedule. The schedule outlined ways a parent could delay, withhold, separate, or space out vaccinations. There is absolutely no scientific evidence, however, that this delayed schedule is safer and more effective for children. Delaying vaccination leaves your child more vulnerable to contracting diseases. I always discourage parents who want to do that. I find it unethical to recommend a vaccination schedule that does not have established safety and efficacy.

The vaccination schedule developed by the ACIP was tested through extensive trials, and because of that, we know that the schedule works. For example, when we immunize a 2-, 4-, 6-, and 15-month-old baby against whooping cough (pertussis), we know that the child has the best chance to be protected when he or she needs it the most. However, if you break the tested schedule, you leave your baby vulnerable.

Our children deserve the best, and the vaccination schedule developed by the ACIP and approved by the Centers for Disease Control is the best one we have.

Do you worry about vaccinating your children? Do these reasons in favor of vaccinating change your thinking at all?

Image via tiarrescott/Flickr

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