Children and Immunizations – Viewpoint #1

Vaccines can be credited for preventing life-threatening diseases such as smallpox and polio, but not everyone is convinced of their safety. Vaccination rates have declined in some areas of the country as parents choose not to have their children vaccinated against once common childhood illnesses such as measles, whopping cough, diphtheria and polio. Why is there so much controversy surrounding vaccinations, and are parents making the right decision when they choose not to vaccinate?

What’s Behind the Vaccination Controversy?
People are understandably concerned about injecting seemingly healthy children with something foreign to protect them against a disease they might not get anyway. When vaccination becomes routine, and the diseases they protect against decline in frequency, people began to focus less on the benefits and more on the potential risks of vaccines. When they aren’t confronted with the devastating effects of some of the diseases vaccines protect against, they wonder whether they’re really necessary.

Vaccines came under intense scrutiny in the 1990s after an ingredient in some vaccines called Thimerosal was blamed for causing autism in children. Despite a thorough investigation, no evidence was found that vaccines or Thimerosal played a role in autism. Despite this, Thimerosal is no longer added to vaccines. Vaccines have also been blamed for contributing to other health problems such as autoimmune diseases, epilepsy, allergies, learning disabilities in children, ADHD, but there isn’t a lot of credible evidence to support this. Some parents still aren’t convinced.

What Are the Risks of Getting Vaccinations?
Vaccines are not completely free of risks. They can cause side-effects such as pain at the site of injection, headaches, fatigue, low-grade fever, nausea and joint or muscle pain. These reactions are usually mild and aren’t a threat to health. More severe reactions such as seizures and high fever can occur but far less commonly. In very rare cases, less than 1 in 1,000,000 vaccines, a child or adult who’s vaccinated can developing ongoing seizures, deafness, brain damage or a nervous system disorder called Guillain Barre syndrome. Rarely, a life-threatening allergic reaction to a vaccine can occur.

Another concern is the effect vaccines have on the immune system. In children, some parents are concerned that multiple vaccinations may be too much for a child’s immune system to handle. The reality is that children are exposed to a variety of bacteria and viruses that cause an immune response every day, and their immune system is able to handle it. There’s also concern that too many vaccines could overwhelm the immune system and lead to autoimmune diseases, but there’s little evidence at this point that this is a problem.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Vaccinating Children Against Childhood Illnesses?
The pros of vaccinating children are they will be protected against childhood illnesses that could threaten their health or paralyze them as polio once did. When parents don’t vaccinate their children, the risk of preventable childhood diseases rearing their ugly head again becomes a concern. A 2003 study conducted by the Pediatric Academic Society revealed that vaccinating children prevents more than 10 million cases of infectious childhood diseases. Children are particularly vulnerable to infections with bacteria and viruses, because their immune systems are still immature. Vaccinations help to protect them.

The cons of vaccinating a child include the risk of side effects. Fortunately, most vaccine side-effects are mild and transient in nature, although there is the unlikely possibility of a life-threatening allergic reaction or a more serious side-effect such as seizures or brain damage. Children should be carefully screened to make sure they don’t have any health problems or allergies that could increase their risk of a serious reaction before they get vaccinated.

Resources for Parents
Before making the decision not to vaccinate children against childhood diseases, parents should familiarize themselves with the diseases vaccines prevent and what the consequences would be if their child developed it. They should also understand the risks and side-effects of vaccinations.

The Centers for Disease Control publishes the risk of various side-effects for each vaccine recommended for children. Another good resource for parents is the Institute for Vaccine Safety associated with John Hopkins University. They do their own independent assessment of the safety of each vaccine and offer a wealth of information on safety.

The Bottom Line?
Vaccines have potential risks and side-effects, but they also offer protection against diseases that once threatened the health of the weakest members of our society, our children. That’s why it’s important for parents to weigh the benefits versus the risks carefully before choosing not to vaccinate their kids.

About Dr. Kristie

Dr. Kristie is a medical doctor with a concentration in family practice. She has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology, as well Master’s Degree in Clinical Pathology. She is a frequent contributor to the Angel Heart Foundation.

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