To get right to the point, I find that the problem with vaccines (or at least writing about them) is that more people are likely to read what I’m about to write if I imply there’s a problem with them then if I were to simply state that vaccines happen to be one of the single most life-saving accomplishments of the twentieth century – appropriately credited with literally transforming the landscape of medicine. That’s not to say that a majority of the general public doesn’t take vaccines seriously. But in this day and age – when we all reap their benefits – we perhaps run the risk of taking vaccines a bit too much for granted. Continue reading “The Problem with Childhood Vaccines”
Every spring, I find myself joining countless other Omaha parents in the search for some sort of organized summer activity(ies) for my children that will be fun, interesting, and hopefully even…dare I say it (lest my children actually read my blog)….educational. Of course in my case, this wasn’t such a problem in years past – if only because my husband and I chose to overcome the “what full-time opportunities are there for kids in the summertime” dilemma by simply building ourselves a childcare center and making sure it offered a high-quality full-time summer camp. While I am well aware that this isn’t the most common solution, what is exceedingly common is for kids – on the order of 11 million of them – to attend summer camps catering to a huge range of ages and activities, and a vast array of interests.
Given that summer is rapidly approaching, I’m willing to bet that a majority of you are currently in search of a summer camp and understandably focusing your search on such criteria as the fun factor, logistical considerations such as hours of operation and transportation requirements, and cost. Based on my review of the recently released policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled Creating Health Camp Environments, however, I am reminded that we should all, as responsible parents, be looking past the fun and games and asking some additional, very important health- and safety-related considerations before sending our kids off to camp this summer. They include:
Don’t get overly ambitious. Be sure to take into account your child’s interests and skill level, not to mention his/her emotional readiness. This means making sure your child is not only enthused about the camp you’ve chosen, but will realistically be able to meet the associated physical and emotional expectations.
Schedule an annual checkup. This is the perfect time to schedule a complete annual physical exam and overall health review. While you’re there, remember to discuss with your child’s doctor any specific physical requirements of the camp that may require medical consideration and/or clearance, as well as any plans for prescriptions and/or medication administration that will be needed while your child is at camp.
Make sure your children’s immunizations are up-to-date. Not only do vaccines help limit the spread of vaccine-preventable infections in the camp environment (not to mention in general), but it’s also worth noting that children attending camps in other states (or even other countries) may have additional immunization requirements.
Recognize that separation anxiety is not just for the very young. I’ve seen plenty of otherwise calm, cool and collected kids experience significant pangs of homesickness – especially if they’re heading off to camp for the first time. Minimize the likelihood by first making plans that aren’t overly ambitious (no sleepaway camp for kids who’ve never spent a night away from home before, for example), and also making sure to discuss with, prepare, and involve your child.
In addition to considering whether your child is ready for camp, you’ll also want to make sure the camp is ready for your child. Make sure the camp you are considering:
- Is adequately staffed with appropriately trained staff. Training should not only be tailored for the types of activities offered (horse back riding or tennis, for example), but also in more general skills such as basic first aid and CPR.
- Has “what if?” policies in place in the form of written health and safety policies and protocols. This helps insure that the camp is adequately prepared to handle and treat common illnesses and injuries
- Insures good basic hygiene – both in the form of routine hand-washing (something that proved to be exceedingly important during the recent H1N1 flu season), but also in food preparation and service, etc.
- Is ready, willing and adequately prepared to correctly and reliably document and administer any medications your child may need while at camp.
And finally – keep in mind that if you choose wisely, summer camp can provide your child with the perfect opportunity for building self-esteem and a sense of independence, making new friends, and spending lots of time being physically active and enjoying the great outdoors.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska
To get right to the point, I find that the problem with vaccines (or at least writing about them) is that more people are likely to read what I’m about to write if I imply there’s a problem with them then if I were to simply state that vaccines happen to be one of the single most life-saving accomplishments of the twentieth century – appropriately credited with literally transforming the landscape of medicine.
That’s not to say that a majority of the general public doesn’t take vaccines seriously. But in this day and age – when we all reap their benefits – we perhaps run the risk of taking vaccines a bit too much for granted. After all, most parents who choose to vaccinate their children (and in many instances, even the health care providers who routinely give these life-saving immunizations) have never had to witness the devastation that vaccine-preventable diseases can and still do cause.
As a pediatrician who trained in the 1990’s, I myself have never had to care for a child with measles, witness the devastation caused by polio infection, or even watch a child struggle to breathe due to a once-common infection now easily prevented by routine Hib vaccination. With all that said, the “out of sight, out of mind” principle makes it all the more compelling and worthwhile for me to take the time to reinforce some of the most important aspects of vaccines, while also addressing some of parents’ biggest questions and concerns.
Are vaccines safe? Just like any medication, vaccines do come with their own potential side effects – each of which is clearly written out and explained on the Vaccine Information Statements (VIS) you receive every time your child is due for a shot. What’s important to remember, however, is that the serious risks of the diseases themselves (also explained on the VIS sheet) outweigh the potential side effects, and that vaccines are held to the highest standard of safety. Approving a vaccine for use in the United States can take ten or more years of testing, and even once a vaccine is made available to the general public, it is closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any adverse effects. While nothing in life is 100% effective or safe, vaccines are the very best thing we have to protect ourselves and our children from some pretty devastating diseases.
Do vaccines cause autism? While the concern that autism may in some way be caused by MMR vaccination was certainly more understandable back in the late 1990’s in the years immediately following the publication of Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s now infamous (and subsequently discredited and retracted) 1998 Lancet article, we now have evidence from several studies that simply don’t support the association between autism and vaccines. Not only that, but the Institute of Medicine’s thorough and rigorous scientific review reinforced that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal containing vaccines and autism” – a finding that was reinforced by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC.
Should you space out your child’s vaccines? As much as I understand the temptation to space out vaccines, there’s simply no evidence to support doing it. At the same time, parents and pediatricians alike need to understand that the currently recommended vaccine schedule published by the CDC each year isn’t simply made up out of thin air, but rather represents the best knowledge, science and evidence we have about what is the most effective way to protect our children. In this day and age of modern and evidence-based medicine, deciding to space out vaccines simply because it sounds like a good idea is not only bad science, but potentially puts children at risk.
Where can I find out more, accurate information about vaccines? Let me just say that the operative word in the preceding question is the word “accurate.” Almost more than any other topic I can think of, the amount of misinformation about vaccines available on the internet is all but guaranteed to invoke doubt (if not fear) amongst parents trying to inform themselves about childhood immunizations. Instead of addressing the myriad of other vaccine questions and concerns that parents have, I will instead keep this blog from turning into a novel by simply recommending the following resources for good, useful, and evidence-based information that will hopefully help you better understand vaccines and better protect your children against vaccine-preventable diseases.
- The Centers for Disease Control Vaccines & Immunizations
- The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – Vaccine Education Center. A huge wealth of accurate, parent-friendly information on immunizations, the diseases they prevent, and how to separate fact from fear.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled an easy-to-access one-stop-shop for vaccine information.
- Clear Answers and Smart Advice About Your Baby’s Shots. Excerpted from Baby 411, authored by colleague and good friend Dr. Ari Brown, this Q&A will provide you very clear and concise answers to your vaccine questions.
- The recently released 2nd edition of my book, Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality also has an entire chapter dedicated to the subject of vaccines.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska