Vaccinations are a powerful, proven tool in our fight to prevent childhood infections. Because of the widespread use of vaccines in the United States, we have seen a dramatic decline in the number of children who suffer from deadly diseases such as polio, chickenpox, hepatitis B and whooping cough.
Vaccinating children with all the recommended vaccines, on schedule, is one of the safest and most advanced means of preventing infection.
Parents commonly ask whether it is better for a child to be “naturally” infected with a disease rather than receiving a vaccine to prevent it. The answer is the vaccine is better. It prevents children from suffering through a long, uncomfortable illness.
Active chickenpox, for example, typically means five to 10 days of high fever, 200 to 500 itchy spots, general crankiness and misery. Actual infections carry a higher risk of complications than vaccines do, including the possibility of hospitalization and long-term effects on quality of life.
A child who isn’t vaccinated is at risk for infections that physicians in the United States may have never seen. A likely example is polio, which still flourishes in developing countries that lack a strong vaccine program. It only takes a plane ride for an infection to migrate to this country and infect an unvaccinated child.
If we stop vaccinating against these diseases, other people, not only children, may become infected.
An unvaccinated child can pass the infection along to others, perhaps a 3-week-old baby cousin the child was hugging and kissing, or to a grandparent with a weakened immune system, or to the person sitting next the child at a restaurant who just left the hospital after surgery or chemotherapy.
We don’t want a child to spread an infection that a vaccine could have prevented.
Parents may wonder what risks or side effects, if any, result from vaccinations. Most side effects are minor, such as soreness where the injection was given or a low-grade fever. These side effects do not last long and are treatable. Serious reactions are very rare. The tiny risk of a serious vaccine reaction should be weighed against the very real risk of getting a dangerous disease that could have been prevented through vaccination.
There is no association between vaccination and autism.
We all know children with autism who have never been vaccinated, and we know far more children who have been vaccinated who are not autistic. Aside from these personal experiences, scientific studies have disproven any link between vaccines and autism.
If shots are delayed or spread out, children are at risk of not being fully protected at a time when they are most vulnerable.
Many parents understand the importance of vaccinations but want to spread them out over time. It’s very hard to hold a child while he/she receives four vaccines in their legs, but vaccine schedules are scheduled all at once for a reason – they need to be administered when a child is most vulnerable to infection.
Children younger than 2 have the greatest risk for infection. If the child is unlucky enough to get infected, their young age is a risk factor for the disease becoming more severe. We start the vaccine program early to ensure that the youngest and most fragile children are protected as soon as possible.
Vaccinations will not overwhelm or weaken a growing child’s body.
Some parents are afraid that too many vaccinations may overwhelm or weaken their child’s immune system. Rest assured that our bodies, even little ones like children’s, encounter many new things every minute and every hour of every day. Young children have a better response and protection to vaccines than older children or adults.
Parents and caregivers should be informed about vaccinations.
Parents and caregivers make decisions that impact a child’s future every day. To feel good about their decisions, they should learn the facts about vaccines. The child’s doctor is the first and best place for information about vaccines. Feel free to ask questions about vaccines at each and every visit.
The following organizations provide evidence-based, practical information about vaccines online:
- Voices for Vaccines
- Immunization Action Coalition
- Every Child by Two
- National Network for Immunization Information
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
By vaccinating children on time, with all the recommended vaccines, we are using some of the safest and most advanced tools available to prevent infection.
Dawn Nolt, M.D., M.P.H.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Disease
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital