By Elena Donovan Mauer
You've got to admit - getting your baby vaccinated can seem pretty scary. But Michael T. Brady, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Infectious Diseases and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, eases our fears.
Fear No. 1: Dangerous side effects
Diarrhea, allergic reaction, rash, fever - why give your sweet, innocent baby something that can cause all that?
Because the potential side effects are less scary than your baby getting diphtheria, hepatitis or polio. "The medical conditions that vaccines prevent are far more serious and have greater cons than the vaccines," Brady says. "Before they're out on the market, vaccines are well studied, and even after that, there are tremendous follow-ups, so even if a side-effect is extremely rare, researchers would be able to pick it up in a study." According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), side effects from immunizations are almost always mild and go away within a few days, and serious reactions are very rare.
"A lot of the concerns parents have are based on hearing about events that have happened that have nothing to do with a vaccine," Brady notes. In other words, you may have heard some parents claim that a vaccination caused a child's symptom, but it may have been a coincidence that the issue happened soon after they had the vaccination.
Fear No. 2: Autism
The rate of autism went up around the same time more kids started getting vaccinated - there must be a connection, right?
Nope. The only study that linked autism with vaccinations has been disproven - and even found to be fraudulent, yet many parents believe that there is an unproven link.
"The total number of children diagnosed with autism has increased," Brady says. "But also the total number of children diagnosed with 'mental retardation' has gone down. We're not seeing autism more, but rather, we were probably incorrectly diagnosing autism as mental retardation in the past."
As for some parents' claims that their child didn't develop symptoms of autism until after getting the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine at one year, "autism is a condition where the primary abnormality is in social interaction, and most social interactions are difficult to gauge in a child under one year old," Brady says. "I don't think there will ever be a study that associates vaccinations with autism."
Fear No. 3: Having too many shots at once
Should a two-month-old baby really be given that many shots? Will he be able fight all those diseases off?
"The worry about giving a baby too many vaccines at once is that you'll overload his immune system and that it won't be able to handle it. But we know that's not the case," Brady says. "New vaccines provide only the minimum amount of material needed to create an immune response to give the child protection." Brady says that the vaccines given together at a baby's doctor's appointment are less stimulating in total than just the previous versions of the small pox vaccine or pertussis vaccine had.
Because so many vaccines at once seems like too much, some parents delay certain shots "just to be safe," but that actually may be a gamble. "Being on the schedule means that the vaccine has been tested," Brady says. "We have evidence that this timing is safe and effective for getting the vaccine. The big problem with spacing out vaccines is that there's no data on the safety of doing that. Delaying a vaccine creates a longer period of time when a child is vulnerable to an illness."
Fear No. 4: "All the other stuff" in the shot
But what else is in the syringe? Can't those preservatives harm my baby?
"There aren't a whole lot of extra ingredients because there's no purpose for putting extra things in a vaccine," Brady says. "As I mentioned before, vaccines go through rigorous testing, and they're monitored by the FDA."
You may have heard of thimerosal, which is a preservative only used in the influenza vaccine in the U.S. - its use worries some parents. "We have good data that says that thimerosal in vaccines doesn't cause problems," says Brady, who notes that thimerosal is used more widely in other vaccines in some other countries.
Fear No. 5: Vaccines being useless
I highly doubt my baby is going to get polio - and measles and chicken pox are no big deal. What's the point of getting the shots?
The truth is, even though we don't see illnesses like polio every day, they still exist in the world. And it could take something as simple as someone with one of these conditions hopping a flight to the US to cause an outbreak here.
And sure, you may have had chicken pox as a kid and gotten through it just fine, but it's not that way for everyone. "We're trying to get rid of varicella - the virus that causes chicken pox _ completely," Brady says. "There are actually some people who can die if they're exposed to it. For most people who catch it, it's just a nuisance, but there are cases of secondary skin infections, encephalitis and other serious complications." He points out that there have been outbreaks in the U.S. of certain illnesses on the CDC's recommended vaccination schedule in recent years, including the measles and pertussis (whopping cough), so an unvaccinated child catching one of these isn't completely out of the question.
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