“Why Should My Child Get All Those Shots?”
“Why Should My Child Get All Those Shots?”
By Jonathan Shook, MD
Medical professionals now recommend, and most schools now require, many more doses of immunizations for today’s children than in previous generations. As parents, it is important for us to understand the reasons why these vaccines are recommended, the evidence for safety of these vaccines, and how our decisions about vaccinating our children may affect their own health, as well as the health of our community.
How important are immunizations in keeping children healthy?
Immunization is one of the most effective preventive health measures ever implemented. The number of cases of most vaccine-preventable illnesses in the U.S. declined by more than 90% after routine childhood immunizations were introduced. In fact, the success of our immunization program has caused many to forget about the vaccine-preventable diseases that harmed so many in previous generations.
Why are their more vaccines now than in the past?
In the past 35 years or so, several vaccines have been introduced into our routine schedule. During that time, these have helped prevent thousands of illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis and intestinal infections that can cause severe illness, hospitalization and even death. We now also have a vaccine for older children that is preventing infection of the main virus involved in causing many cancers, such as cervical and head/neck cancers. Additionally, researchers have learned that giving a booster dose to some vaccines years after the first dose can significantly increase protection.
How do we know that vaccines are safe?
Vaccines that are recommended for children in the U.S. are extensively tested in large numbers of subjects before they are licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After they are licensed, they are monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and the Vaccine Safety Datalink. If concerns are identified, the FDA issues news releases, and they may temporarily or permanently suspend the use of a specific vaccine.
Most adverse events associated with immunizations are minor and self-limited (local skin reactions, transient fever, etc.). Serious adverse events are rare, and they should be considered in the context of the risks associated with the natural infection being prevented. For example, the risk of a serious complication while a person has the influenza virus is much higher than the risk of a possible serious adverse event from the influenza vaccine.
Beliefs that one vaccine, certain vaccine ingredients, or that the combination of certain vaccines may “overload the immune system” or cause autism have gained popularity over the past 20 years. Many of these concerns can be traced to a 1998 study involving 12 children that alleged that the MMR vaccine led to the development of autism. The study was later found to be flawed, retracted from the public record in 2010 and exposed as being fraudulent in 2011. The lead researcher of the study subsequently had his British medical license taken away due to the fraud. In recent decades, overwhelming evidence that vaccines do not cause autism has been found and published. However, this debunked idea still circulates in social media and the internet. The following is a quote from the website of the leading autism advocacy group, Autism Speaks, (autismspeaks.org): “Each family has a unique experience with an autism diagnosis, and for some it corresponds with the timing of their child’s vaccinations. At the same time, scientists have conducted extensive research over the last two decades to determine whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.”
Why is it important for our children to get their recommended immunizations on schedule?
The immunization schedules for children and adolescents are updated yearly by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. These schedules are based on research over many decades, and they have the goal of vaccinating as many children as possible at the safest and earliest age possible to protect them from disease. The standard schedule of childhood vaccines has been studied and found to be safe.
As a general rule, vaccine-preventable diseases are more severe in infants and young children compared with older children. Delaying immunizations or making up different vaccine schedules leaves children vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases and can increase the chance for a disease outbreak in a community. State laws about requiring vaccines for daycare and school entry are in place to maximize immunization rates in the community, which prevents transmission of diseases that can cause an outbreak. This community immunity (also called “herd” immunity) helps protect those who are too young for vaccines, as well as those with medical contraindications keeping them from getting vaccines.
Our childhood vaccine rates in Mississippi are some of the highest in the country, and one reason is that all children here must be fully vaccinated against certain diseases to enter both private and public schools, and only children with a medical contraindication can be exempt from this requirement.
Why should we trust pediatricians about vaccines?
Pediatricians are thoroughly trained about all kinds of infectious diseases, and we have seen how many of these infections can cause illness, suffering and even death to infants and children. Pediatricians are also very educated about the immunizations that have saved so many lives and continue to protect our children and families to this day. I have traveled all around the country to meet with various groups of pediatricians to discuss many different topics. One thing I have noticed is that while pediatricians tend to be very diverse in their beliefs about religion, politics and social issues, they all tend to be strong advocates for immunizations.
Some suggest that since many pediatricians are paid to vaccinate children, they are biased and should not be trusted. The truth is that insurance companies barely pay pediatric practices enough to reimburse for the costs of the vaccines. Small vaccine administration fees do not add up to cover the costs of supplies, nurse time and other costs involved in maintaining a vaccine inventory. Giving vaccines takes a lot of time, energy and personnel. However, we do it because we believe that our patients need and deserve to be protected.
I talk about vaccines to my patients and their families every day. At the end of our discussions, many parents feel better about having their child vaccinated when they hear that all four of my children received all the vaccines that I am recommending for their child on the same schedule. If you have questions about vaccines for your child, please reach out to one of our pediatricians at Hattiesburg Clinic.
Watch this news clip for tips from Dr. Shook on how to keep your child calm while getting their shots.
Dr. Shook is a pediatrician with The Pediatric Clinic, a service of Hattiesburg Clinic. He also provides consultation and care at Connections for ADHD and related disorders. Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding yours or a loved one’s behavioral or mental health, please contact our office.
Connections serves as a regional resource center providing medical, educational, speech/language and dyslexia evaluation services for children and teenagers. Following diagnosis, we work with you and your child to determine the best course of treatment and therapy for them. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at 601-261-5159.