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 CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 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 CDC 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.
- My book, Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality also has an entire chapter dedicated to the subject of vaccines.