As a parent, you likely have been paying attention to the public conversations going on about the benefits and risks of vaccines, and you also know that it's important to find reliable information. Vaccines have reduced or nearly eliminated diseases that once affected thousands of newborns and young children. If you're the parent of an infant, it's normal to be concerned — you want the best for your child, after all. How can you separate fact from fiction, and what legitimate concerns should you have? Here's what you need to know.
Where to Begin
When it comes to the health of your child, your best resource for information and assistance is your child's doctor. Make a list of all your questions about maintaining a healthy immune system for your child, including the role that vaccines might play, and talk to your child's pediatrician about them. Your child's pediatrician is your greatest ally, so use this resource as much as possible.
How Vaccines Work
Vaccines contain a harmless form of a bacteria or virus, such as measles. The germ is either killed or weakened to the point that it doesn't cause disease but can still trigger the immune system to fight off an infection; this protects the child from developing the disease in the future. When the vast majority of children in a community are vaccinated, it creates a protective halo, preventing large outbreaks even among children who cannot be vaccinated because of other health conditions. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that healthy children get vaccinated against 14 diseases by age two.
Common Vaccine Concerns
The vaccination controversy is fueled by myths and misinformation, so it's important that parents seek reliable scientific evidence on which to base their decisions. Some parents are concerned about the sheer number of vaccines babies are exposed to. But even if an infant gets several shots at once, vaccines contain only a tiny fraction of the germs healthy babies fight every day. There may be exceptions to the CDC's recommended infant and child immunization schedule; for example, some children might miss a vaccine if they are allergic to a specific ingredient or if they have a weakened immune system due to sickness or other medical treatment. Your pediatrician is familiar with your child's medical history and will advise you about the possible risks of certain vaccines. You can also talk to your doctor about combination vaccines, which reduce the number of shots but still protect your child against the same number of diseases.
Another aspect of the vaccination controversy is vaccines' possible side effects. Like any medication, vaccines may cause some minor symptoms, such as soreness where the shot was given, fussiness, or a low fever. These symptoms are normal and to be expected as the body builds up immunity. Serious side effects, such as a severe allergic reaction, are rare and require speedy medical attention.
In addition, recent research from The Journal of the American Medical Association shows no link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
Learn More About Vaccination
The CDC and AAP websites offer a variety of educational information about immunizations for infants, children, and adolescents:
Widespread medical research proves the benefits of vaccinations. While there are valid concerns for parents like you, your child's doctor will be able to address them. If you do research using the right sources, such as some of the health organizations mentioned here, you'll feel comfortable with your decision regarding getting your child the correct recommended immunizations.