What Every Parent Should Know About Immunizations
Watching your child get a shot isn't easy. It's even harder if the fearful one is you.
Millions of parents immunize their kids each year without concern. Yet some parents have heard rumors that vaccines can cause serious health problems.
"It can be confusing for parents," says epidemiologist Benjamin Schwartz, M.D., a deputy director in the National Immunization Program. "For example, there are Internet sites that present convincing, yet unproven, theories about the risks of vaccines. Deciding who is credible and who is not can be difficult."
So, who can parents turn to for the facts about vaccine safety? "The first place to go is to your child's doctor," advises Dr. Schwartz. He or she knows your child's health and medical needs better than anybody. Dr. Schwartz adds, "By law, physicians must give you information explaining the benefits and risks of each immunization." Reading this material can help you make a well-informed decision.
Another resource for in-depth information on vaccine safety is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can check its website at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/index.html.
Are immunizations safe?
Yes. All vaccines are fully tested before being approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Vaccines contain weakened toxins, or a dead or weakened form of the disease-causing virus or bacteria, which causes the body to produce antibodies that protect the child from that disease.
Diseases such as polio and mumps are rare, so why are vaccines necessary?
Many of these diseases still thrive in other parts of the world. Travelers can and do bring these viruses back to the United States. Without the protection of vaccines, these diseases could easily spread here again.
Don't vaccines cause harmful side effects, illness and even death?
Some children have minor side effects from being vaccinated, such as a slight fever or swelling at the injection site. The risk of death or serious side effects is so small that it is difficult to document. Claims that vaccines cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), autism or other diseases have been carefully researched and never proved. In fact, SIDS has recently been linked, not to vaccines, but to abnormalities in serotonin use in the brainstem, an area associated with regulating breathing. Rumors still persist that an increase in autism in children is caused by thimerosal, a preservative added to vaccines. Thimerosal, however, was removed from all vaccines in Sweden in 1995 and the incidence of autism has continued to increase there, as it has in the United States and throughout the world.
Won't giving babies multiple vaccines at one time overload their immune system?
Many studies have been done to assess the safety of multiple vaccinations. None has shown that multiple vaccinations cause a problem. Children are exposed to many foreign substances every day with no harmful effects. Scientists say that the tiny amount of virus or bacteria in vaccines is not enough to harm a child.