Protecting your family from disease.
Disease prevention with vaccination is one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. In the United States, routine childhood immunizations led to a 96- to 100-percent decrease in the number of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases. Misperceptions about vaccine safety have grown along with parental concerns that the immunization schedule is confusing and crowded. Unscientific theories and heartbreaking stories with unproven correlations fuel intense debates over immunization mandates. Schools, parents, government and healthcare providers are increasingly at odds on these issues. The media have weighed in, airing dramatic, terrifying testimonies that inflame parental fears. As a result, increasing numbers of parents are refusing or delaying vaccines.
Ironically, the success of vaccination has led to a decreased perception of disease risk. Many parents and even providers have not personally seen the devastating effects of communicable diseases that childhood vaccines prevent. In January 2015, a large, multistate outbreak of measles was linked to Disneyland in California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes the outbreak started with an overseas traveler who visited the park while contagious. That one case led to more than 180 new cases, with most new cases occurring in unvaccinated individuals, some living in communities with a vaccination rate lower than 50 percent. Many parents last year were alarmed about the risk of contracting Ebola. In reality, the greatest concern was flu, which causes anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 deaths per year, according to the CDC.
Many parents have the following questions and concerns about vaccinations.
Is it dangerous to have so many shots on the schedule?
The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend vaccination for 16 diseases during childhood.
Providers use combination vaccines as much as possible to reduce the number of needle sticks, but your child may get as many as six vaccines in a single visit. Many long-term studies show this is a safe practice.
Aren’t dangerous chemicals and preservatives in some vaccines?
Thimerosal is a mercury preservative that was used in very small amounts in some vaccines. Although there were never any proven adverse effects, in 1999 the AAP recommended its removal as a precaution. By 2001, it had been removed from almost all vaccinations. Some people believe thimerosal use contributed to developing autism, but since its removal autism rates have not decreased.
Hasn’t the MMR vaccine been linked to autism?
Dozens of international studies have disproved this theory. The AAP and the Institute of Medicine have formed panels of independent scientists to investigate, and all concluded there is no causal link. The physician who initially hypothesized this link in 1998 was convicted by the British General Medical Council on more than three dozen charges, including four counts of dishonesty. The British Medical Journal has since noted that elements of the study were blatantly falsified. Experts believe autism is a genetic disorder that occurs before birth, but research is ongoing.
Is a flu shot really necessary?
Many parents believe flu is a common, harmless illness. In reality, influenza is a serious, deadly disease, causing an average of 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S. Children and pregnant women are among the most vulnerable to serious complications. The flu strain changes from year to year, meaning a new vaccine is necessary for each season. Most healthy kids can receive a nasal spray.
Must 11-year-olds gets three shots for HPV?
Is it ok to wait until they’re older? HPV (human papilloma virus) is a very common virus affecting nearly 80 million people in the U.S. (one in four). The HPV infection can cause reproductive cancers as well as genital warts. It’s important to be vaccinated early before any risk of exposure to the virus. Vaccination for HPV is recommended for both girls and boys. Your child should also have a tetanus shot (Tdap), which protects against whooping cough and diphtheria. The third vaccination is for meningococcal meningitis, bacteria that infect the brain and spinal cord and are often fatal.
It’s becoming increasingly popular to customize a child’s vaccination, randomly choosing to alter the recommended schedule by getting one or two vaccinations at a time. This is dangerous because it leaves children vulnerable to disease. These schedules are not recommended by the CDC or the AAP.
Vaccines in the U.S. are held to the strictest safety standards, and the CDC reports the safest, most effective supply in history. The process by which your provider recommends vaccines is one that takes decades and many organizations to accomplish. After ten or more years of clinical trials and FDA approval, vaccines are considered by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the CDC. This is a group of medical and public health experts who develop recommendations on vaccine use. The AAP considers the ACIP recommendations and issues provider recommendations, which are passed to consumers. Research on vaccines continues for decades after they are released to the market. The CDC also has a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) in which any hint of a problem is thoroughly investigated.
If you have questions or concerns about vaccinations, talk to your child’s provider. You can also visit the CDC’s website:http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/.
Jessica Peck, DNP, RN, CPNP-PC, CNE, CNL, is a PNP and Associate Professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center. She has been practicing in pediatric primary care for more than 20 years.