Imagine that there were a product available for children that prevented more than 21 million hospitalizations and 700,000 deaths in children born in the last 20 years.
It would seem that parents would be lining up in droves to ensure that their children received that product, right? That product, the childhood vaccination, does exist, but unfortunately has become quite controversial for a myriad of reasons, none of which are related to its safety and efficacy.
There are a lot of vaccine myths out there, so I’m going to address the top questions and concerns about vaccines that I hear from parents.
1. Vaccines Cause Autism
This theory came about due to FRAUDULENT research.
The investigator MADE UP the data to prove a conclusion that he wanted it to prove. Since the publication of his research, which broke the law and caused him to lose his medical license, there have been countless sound medical studies proving that vaccines do NOT cause autism. The Autism Speaks website even says explicitly that while we don’t know what causes autism, it’s not vaccines.
For a complete list of the studies on vaccines and autism done since the initial fraudulent study, visit this website: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/immunizations/Pages/Vaccine-Studies-Examine-the-Evidence.aspx
2. Why does it matter to you if I don’t vaccinate my child? It doesn’t affect anyone else, right?
Actually, it does. There is something called herd immunity that is critical in controlling disease outbreaks in a community.
This means that a population as a whole has to have a certain proportion of its population (typically 80%) protected against a particular illness in order to prevent an outbreak. Some people (infants, pregnant people, those with cancer or those who are immunocompromised) cannot be vaccinated, so they rely on the “herd” to provide immunity and protect them from illness.
When people start refusing vaccines, the proportion of vaccinated individuals in a given population drops below 80%, and outbreaks occur. Typically, those most vulnerable individuals, who may have wanted to vaccinate, but cannot are the worst affected by illness. This is even more important with the global nature of our world today. Here’s an awesome graphic from the CDC website to illustrate the importance of herd immunity
3. Diseases like measles and mumps are gone, so is it really necessary that I vaccinate my child against them?
YES, and unfortunately, they are not gone.
While rates are very low, the only disease that has been completely eradicated from the planet is smallpox. Over the summer there was an outbreak of measles in Minnesota. There is an outbreak of Hepatitis A in San Diego as we speak. Due to low vaccination rates, outbreaks of diseases like whopping cough (pertussis), measles, and mumps have become more common.
See this website for an updated map of vaccine preventable illnesses and where they are occurring as we speak. http://www.vaccineswork.org/vaccine-preventable-disease-outbreaks/
4. I’ll get the other vaccines, but I don’t want the flu shot. Every time I get it, I get sick.
This is the most common vaccine that parents refuse, and the most common reason I hear for refusal. Influenza causes between 300,000 and 500,000 deaths worldwide annually, making this a very important, life-saving vaccine for many.
There are two ways that the flu vaccine is made- one is with inactivated virus, so it cannot cause illness, and one with no flu virus at all. In both cases, it is physically impossible to be infected with the virus from the vaccine.
If you become ill around the time that you get the vaccine it is likely because you got it too late---it takes 2 weeks after the vaccine to be fully protected. We also give the flu shot out only during cold and flu season, so it’s very likely that you were just coincidentally infected with another virus around the time you got the shot.
5. I have an egg allergy so I can't get any vaccines.
As always, there are exceptions to the rule, and contraindications and precautions to giving vaccines do exist, though many are temporary.
I’ll mention a few, and one common misconception, below, but, as always, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about your particular case if you have concerns or questions.
- Previous anaphylaxis to a vaccine: If you’ve had anaphylaxis to a vaccine in the past, that particular vaccine can’t be given in the future (other vaccines are okay provided they don’t contain the allergen that caused the reaction)
- Severe vaccine reaction: Encephalopathy after a pertussis-containing vaccine means future doses are a no-go
- Current illness: This one is tough, and in my practice, I decide on a case by case basis. If you are sick on the day you are scheduled to get a vaccine, make sure you talk to your healthcare provider. In general, I won’t vaccinate anyone with a fever of 102F or above within 24 hours.
- Personal or family history of seizures: This is not a contraindication to the vaccines, but a suggestion of caution for the MMR/Varicella combination vaccine as it is known to have a higher febrile seizure rate than when the vaccines are given via separate needles.
- Immunocompromised and pregnancy: Both are a contraindication to live vaccines. They can typically be given safely once the immunocompromised state or pregnancy is over, however.
- Egg allergy: This is not a contraindication at all! People with egg allergies can actually safely be vaccinated and don’t even need to do it in the allergist’s office or be monitored for 30 minutes after the vaccine anymore!
In short, vaccines save lives. They are safe, and while there are rare side effects from vaccines, the side effects from the diseases they prevent are much more prevalent.
Here are the recommended vaccination schedules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
For Children (Birth to 18 Years of Age)
For Adults (Over 19 Years Old)
By Sara Schroder, M.D. - Expert Pediatrician
Sara Schroder, MD is a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University. She received her medical degree at The Ohio State University and completed her pediatric residency, as well as chief residency, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She works in primary care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and also teaches and coaches medical students at Ohio State. Her clinical interests include preventive care and breastfeeding. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time and traveling with her husband and toddler.