by Dr. Sarah Lallaman, pediatrician at Winona Health
Vaccines are undoubtedly one of the most commonly contested subjects, yet vaccines are one of the most successful achievements in modern medicine. I am routinely surprised to see how anti-vaccine lobbying groups can find any ground to stand on with the indisputable research that has shown over and over again that vaccines are safe, effective, and have nearly eliminated so many diseases that once plagued even developed countries not that long ago.
Just as the medical field puts to rest one concern, such as vaccines and autism, another concern is raised. The most recent push from vaccine-hesitant populations has been to delay or alter the recommended vaccine schedule that is supported by all major organizations including the Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and The World Health Organization.
As a pediatrician, I frequently have conversations with nervous parents, and I welcome these conversations knowing that the information I offer is sound and backed by nearly every other physician in the country. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines given per the recommended guidelines and schedules are also safe. The schedule is not designed to give a baby as many shots as early as we can, but to provide protection to diseases that would be most devastating to infants that otherwise have no protection. The schedule has been specifically designed to work with the body’s immune system at points when they will have the strongest response and to complete the primary boosters prior to the decline of any benefit the mother conferred during pregnancy.
To spread vaccines out is a risk and leaves infants unprotected for longer to diseases that could be fatal if contracted. Even with the best intentions, I routinely see parents plan to return for vaccines, yet rarely do busy parents fit in the extra appointment. I have yet to see how giving shots one at a time is any less stressful for an infant and there is no medical evidence to suggest it is better.
Numerous studies demonstrate that multiple vaccines given at the same time do not increase the risk of any adverse vaccine reactions. If a child is going to have a serious negative side effect from any vaccine, there is no research to say it wouldn’t occur if given one at a time. Additionally, the number of antigens that are used in the entire recommended schedule from start to finish is around 150 antigens or exposures. A child is routinely exposed to 2,000-6,000 antigens a day, just by eating, breathing and playing. Even if all the shots for all 14 diseases we are protecting against were given at the same time, it is estimated that we would be using less than 0.1 percent of the immune system’s capacity.
As a physician, I find it frustrating that there is so much reliable research-based evidence, but the heart-wrenching story of one person with a negative side effect to a vaccine can derail all the successes and advances that vaccines provide every day. People are more vaccine hesitant now because they no longer fear the diseases we are trying to prevent.
People no longer fear diphtheria or mumps. Infants are no longer routinely dying from whooping cough. It’s easy to focus on the details of each vaccine, but it’s harder to appreciate the number of people who don’t get sick every year thanks to vaccinations.
I strongly recommend the routine vaccination schedule and for people to take the opportunity to look at the reliable research that is widely available. I wouldn’t ask you to do something with your child that I wouldn’t do for my own child. I don’t know what better recommendation I can give you as a pediatrician and as a mother.