One of the most important things I do as a pediatrician is administer vaccines. Most parents choose to have their children vaccinated as a matter of course, yet a small percentage remain indefatigable in their opposition to vaccines.
Critics of vaccines often cite empirical evidence (“I know a lady whose daughter got really sick after getting shots”) or research that has since been disproven.
We understand that parents are trying to make the best decision for their children. As physicians, we begin our careers by taking an oath to first do no harm; if we weren’t confident in the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines, we wouldn’t administer them. So permit me to offer a few points that, hopefully, will reassure you that deciding to vaccinate your children is a safe and wise choice.
The diseases vaccines protect against can be deadly.
In the 1900s, many parents lived in mortal fear of polio — a disease that could lead to paralysis and death among children. But children born in the United States today have virtually no risk of encountering polio because of the development and widespread use of a safe and effective polio vaccine.
Even now, the diseases children face can be deadly. Measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children throughout the world, but through global vaccination efforts, the mortality rate from the disease dropped 84 percent from 2000 to 2016. Almost 90,000 children a year, however, continue to die from measles, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That’s why we recommend the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or MMR. Similarly, many of the other diseases children may encounter — including whooping cough and varicella, or chicken pox — can lead to the risk of life-threatening complications or deformity that can be prevented through vaccination.
The safety of vaccines is carefully studied and evaluated.
The fact that the vast majority of parents continue to vaccinate their children means that researchers have an enormous amount of data on the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Vaccines are only made available to medical providers after years of study and evaluation, and the conditions in which they are manufactured and distributed are carefully regulated. If a vaccine — or a batch of a vaccine — is found unsafe, protocols are employed to rapidly remove the vaccine from the market.
In addition, the schedule, or timing that vaccines are administered, is also carefully studied and monitored. The goal of following a standardized schedule of vaccination is to ensure that children receive the protection of the vaccines as soon as they can be safely administered. Your pediatrician can discuss the schedule of vaccination with you and can make adjustments based on your wishes, but we will encourage you to use the vaccination schedule suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to offer your child the best protection. Spacing out vaccines does not increase the safety of your child, and a lot of the times, this will lead to your child being delayed with his or her vaccines, increasing his or her risk of acquiring the diseases that the vaccines prevent.
Vaccinations protect other people, too.
Each year, anywhere from 10 to 20 babies in the U.S. die from whooping cough — a disease that we can prevent through the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine, but that we can’t safely administer to babies until they’re at least 2 months old. In addition, there are also instances when children cannot safely be given the DTaP vaccine or other vaccinations due to allergic reactions, compromised immune systems or other issues, contributing to the more than 160,000 deaths from pertussis that occur globally each year. We’re also seeing increased pertussis infection rates among teens and adults, including elder adults who are at greater risk of experiencing complications from pertussis.
That’s why it’s vital that other children who can get the vaccine, do — because doing so helps protect those who cannot. Vaccination can stop the spread of diseases through schools, childcare centers and even the child’s own home. If we can be sure most children are not carrying a potentially dangerous disease, then we can be assured that those who cannot be immunized are safer as well.
You can learn more about a host of childhood immunizations online in Tanner’s Health Library. We encourage you to become as aware and knowledgeable as possible and rely on trusted, relevant sources of information, as there’s a lot of unreliable advice available out there. And as always, if you have any questions, reservations or concerns, feel free to speak candidly with your child’s pediatrician; he or she will have the information or will be able to direct you to the resources you need to make the best decision for your child.