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Shots for Kids: What Parents Should Know About Vaccinations

This article appeared on

by Sheiresa Ngo
April 27, 2016

If you have young children, you may be overwhelmed by all of the information on childhood vaccinations. The information overload makes it tough to absorb all the key points you need to know. Not to worry, plenty of parents just like you have struggled with making a decision on vaccinating their children. The Cheat Sheet chatted with five medical professionals to get their expert knowledge on what you need to know about vaccinations.

Why vaccinate?

Vaccinations protect your child from diseases that could be deadly if the proper medical interventions are not sought. Dr. Christina Johns, pediatric emergency physician and senior medical advisor for PM Pediatrics, told The Cheat Sheet vaccinations are not only for your child’s safety but also the safety of other children your child may have contact with. “Immunizing your child means he or she is protected against many deadly and debilitating diseases like tetanus and polio. It also means they are protected against very contagious infections like chicken pox and rotavirus. When you immunize your child you actually help other children too, especially those whose medical conditions that may preclude them from receiving certain immunizations. The more kids who are immunized, the fewer chances an infectious disease has to spread around,” said Johns.

Physicians also agree vaccinations help extend one’s lifespan. Dr. Amesh A. Adalja said it is important to take steps as early as possible to avoid complications later in life. “There are myriad benefits to having one’s child vaccinated. For most of humankind’s history, infectious diseases were a leading cause of mortality and the reason why many did not reach adulthood. The massive lifespan increases humans have experienced owe a lot to the power of vaccines. Vaccines keep children healthy and alive as evidenced by the fact that thousands still die from measles in the developing world,” Adalja told The Cheat Sheet.

The autism debate

You may be hesitant to vaccinate your child in light of concerns around studies claiming a link between immunization and autism. However, Dr. Morton Tavel, clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine, told The Cheat Sheet these claims are unfounded. Tavel points to the fact that the study most cited had some major flaws.

A dangerous myth arose from a study published in 1999, describing a small group of 12 children who were supposedly normal until after they received a standard immunization (MMR) to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. These children presumably developed autism in the aftermath, leading to the premature conclusion that immunization caused the mental problems. In contrast to generally accepted valid science, however, the numbers in this study were far too small to allow any real conclusions, and therefore, carefully controlled studies would have been necessary to establish that the immunizations were responsible. Nevertheless, this report ignited a worldwide scare over vaccines and autism—and caused millions of parents to delay or decline potentially lifesaving immunizations for their children. Subsequently, numerous independent studies were performed and failed to find any link between vaccines and autism. Moreover, procedural problems were uncovered involving the original publication that impugned the integrity of the original study, causing the author to be discredited and the journal editors to retract the entire study.

Dr. Danelle Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Santa Monica, California-based Providence Saint John’s Health Center, told The Cheat Sheet she agrees that failing to vaccinate a child could lead to potential complications down the road. While Fisher acknowledges some patients may experience side effects, she believes the benefits outweigh the risks. “Some parents are led under false premises to believe that vaccinations are unnecessary or can cause more harm than good through side effects. Vaccines may cause side effects but the overwhelming majority of these side effects are mild and limited with an incredibly low risk of something bad occurring. The diseases against which these vaccines protect our children are way worse than not vaccinating,” warned Fisher.

Some parents not convinced

Despite the fact that these autism studies were found to be flawed, some parents are still concerned about the potential impact of vaccines on their children’s health. Among them is Jennie Ann Freiman, a blogger and former physician. Freiman is not completely against vaccines, but does not feel it is necessary for her children to get all of them.

“My personal algorithm for deciding which vaccines my kids would get when they were of age was basically if the illness would maim or possibly kill them, they got the vaccine; otherwise they didn’t. For example, I thought polio was necessary but chicken pox was not … Although the scientific info we are offered shows no link between autism and vaccination, I was concerned because the studies would look at risks from one or a few vaccines, but not consider the toxic load that is presented to a kid who is getting multiple vaccines, often in one session. The CDC 2016 list of recommended vaccines is scary, in my opinion. So is the list of vaccine injuries on the VAERS site and the problems are probably under-reported to the database … I look around and see that kids overall are much less healthy today than they were when I was a kid … so how is it that vaccines are helping?” asked Freiman.

Educate yourself

If you still have fears about vaccinating your child, speak with your child’s physician. Both Johns and Tavel recommend setting up a meeting with your child’s pediatrician so you can ask questions and have a discussion about the pros and cons of vaccination. He or she can answer any questions and give you reliable resources you can reference for more information. “The very best place for parents to learn about immunizations is from a face to face chat with their child’s pediatrician. In addition to this, the CDC has a website with helpful information about each individual vaccine plus the recommended dosing schedule,” said Johns.

Helpful resources

American Academy of Pediatrics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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