Childhood Immunizations: Safe for Your Child
With mixed messages in the media about whether or not childhood immunizations are safe, parents look to physicians to sort facts from falsehoods.
Controversy in the media these days concerning childhood immunizations can lead to confusion: Are they safe or do they cause conditions such as autism, SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) or diabetes? With your child’s health at stake, it’s wise to get the facts from a physician rather than a celebrity or reporter.
Dr. Michael Bauer, a pediatrician affiliated with Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and the hospital’s former chairman of Pediatrics, says, “As far as doctors are concerned, there is no controversy about immunizations (vaccinations) — except what the media has created.
"The scientific evidence is clear. There is no link between vaccinations and autism, diabetes, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), multiple sclerosis or other diseases. Vaccines are very safe. They are studied extensively before they are licensed and put into use, and any potential side effects are monitored in a nationwide database.”
Dr. Bauer stresses to parents, “It is much riskier to avoid vaccinating your child than to receive a vaccine. And, it’s important to start immunizations as young as possible to protect infants and young children from getting these diseases.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends administration of the hepatitis B vaccine right at birth, with vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and other diseases beginning at two months of age.
He adds, “Vaccines are one of our greatest scientific achievements ever. Because vaccines are so good at what they do — preventing diseases — we have a whole generation of parents and even grandparents who have never seen many of these diseases. They have no awareness of how severe diseases like pertussis or measles or polio can be. Yet, before we had these immunizations, hundreds of thousands of children were infected. Many of them resulted in long-term disabilities or death.”
Diseases Making a Comeback
Widespread immunizations have made these many of these illnesses rare in the United States, yet they still exist in many parts of the world and anyone who is not vaccinated is at risk. “Even if we don’t see them in the United States, these severe illnesses are just a plane ride away and can easily return here,” says Dr. Bauer.
In fact, mumps, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) have been seen across the country in recent years. A recent outbreak of measles in Milwaukee infected seven children who were not vaccinated. Whooping cough is more likely to affect adolescents, who now get a booster later in childhood. Recently, however, an unvaccinated baby contracted the disease and was hospitalized at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital for a week.
Chicken Pox: More Serious Than People Think
Chicken pox is one of the newest immunizations recommended for children. Parents often question the need for a chicken pox vaccine. “Most people think chicken pox is a benign disease and, for a large percentage of kids, it is,” says Dr. Bauer. “But it also can be quite serious.”
Chicken pox raises a child’s risk of severe skin infections, including staph and strep, and complications including encephalitis, gangrene and even death. In addition, people who have had chicken pox are at higher risk for developing shingles decades later, which can be painful and debilitating for older adults.
A Word of Caution for Immune-compromised Families
While he strongly endorses immunizations for babies and children, Dr. Bauer offers caution for one special group: children whose immune systems are compromised, such as children currently being treated for leukemia or neuroblastoma or children who may be exposed to a family member currently undergoing chemotherapy.
“Parents should consult with their pediatrician before the child gets a live vaccine like MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) or chicken pox,” he says. “But as soon as the child’s immune system is no longer suppressed, it’s important to get vaccinated.”
Know the Facts
- Babies are not too young. “The risk comes from delaying a vaccination and potentially exposing the baby to a life-threatening disease,” says Dr. Bauer.
- You can’t catch the disease from the vaccine. Most injected vaccinations are deactivated versions of the disease.
- How many is too many? “There is a misconception that spreading out vaccinations is safer than getting several at once. At four months of age, for example, the AAP recommends five vaccinations,” says Dr. Bauer. “Spreading them out only delays protection for your child.”
- Babies are resilient. “Infants are born with fully functioning immune systems. From the moment they are born, they are exposed to hundreds of different germs, which they fight off just fine," says Dr. Bauer. “The vaccinations are a drop in the bucket compared to what they are exposed to in daily life.”
- Vaccines do not cause autism, SIDS, asthma or multiple sclerosis. “Multiple scientific studies show no link between immunizations and these conditions,” says Dr. Bauer.
Learn more about this important topic from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Go to www.aap.org for descriptions and photos of these diseases, recommended immunizations schedule for children, and more discussion about the importance and safety of childhood immunizations.