Vaccination is one of the most important strategies in the prevention of disease and infection in children and adults. Although surrounded by judgement and varying opinions, routine childhood immunizations have had a significant impact on the reduction in bacterial and viral diseases. SMG Pediatrician and Adolescent Medicine specialist, Dr. Daniel Hermann, is an advocate for timely administration of childhood vaccines. Through the below Q&A, Dr. Hermann helps to ease some of the apprehension parents might have about vaccinating their children by highlighting the benefits and safety of vaccines.
What do vaccines do?
Vaccines are important in safeguarding the health and well-being of our infants and children. They help prime and boost our children's immune system against certain bacterial and viral infections that can be severe and life threatening. One example is meningitis, an infection of the brain that can be fatal. Many infants and children died of this in the past. Luckily, it is much rarer today because of vaccines. The advent of vaccines, along with better nutrition and hygiene, has helped improve our health and increase our lifespan.
Are all children placed on the same vaccination schedule?
Yes, pediatricians follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These can be found on their respective websites, and each of our pediatric offices has them. The schedule is developed after years of research into each particular vaccine, in order to find the best regimen to maximally enhance a child's immune system. All children should be maintained on this schedule to maximally enhance their immune system. It helps both them and their community through "herd immunity". Herd immunity is when the community gets vaccinated against a particular disease. It also helps protect infants who are too young to get that particular vaccine.
Are vaccines safe?
Yes, as years of research is conducted to assess safety and efficacy. This includes many years of lab research to make sure vaccines are safe to trial in humans, and that they perform as they are supposed to. Immune (antibody) response is assessed after administration of the vaccine. My own children are fully immunized. I would not vaccinate them unless I thought they were safe.
Will vaccination weaken my child’s immune system?
No, on the contrary. Vaccination enhances our immune system. I liken them to helping raise our "antibody armies" in the fight against infections. We do not see many vaccine-preventable infections anymore due to most children being vaccinated. However, when parents do not immunize or fully immunize (follow an "alternative" vaccine schedule), this puts both their children and the community at risk for serious infection. This happened with the 2014 measles outbreak at Disneyland in California. Most of those people that got the measles were not vaccinated.
Can my child experience side effects or have a bad reaction from a vaccine?
Yes, although rare, it is possible to have side effects from vaccines. The most common side effects are injection site pain, redness and swelling. Infants younger than two years of age can get a fever. Side effects usually occur within 24 to 72 hours of the injection. With the oral RotaTeq vaccine against rotavirus, some infants can have diarrhea.
How long do vaccinations last?
Vaccines last many years, but each person's immune response varies, and immunity to certain infections can wane, or decrease, over time. That is why there are "booster" doses of certain vaccines that are given at certain ages. These include the "kindergarten" series (DTaP, polio, chicken pox, and MMR); "middle school" series (Tdap included), and the "college" series (Tdap and meningococcal boosters). In addition, if there are certain disease outbreaks, like measles on college campuses, the CDC and local health departments will advise students to get a booster.
Do vaccines cause physical and/or mental health issues?
Although there may be anxiety about getting vaccines, on both the child's and parent's parts, they have not been shown to cause any mental health or physical issues, except in very rare instances. They have been researched for many years before coming to market, and there is constant "post-market" data being submitted via the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System VAERS. As an example, one of my patients had a previously unknown allergic reaction to a component (gelatin) of a vaccine in the office shortly after getting the vaccine. His next administration was free of that component, and he did not have a reaction. Teenagers can get dizzy when getting vaccines (or lab work for that matter), so we have them sit in the exam room for at least five minutes before standing. Parents will come to us with concerns after reading something on the internet where there is an abundance of misinformation. It is our job as pediatricians to allay concerns about this and point them in the right direction for complete information. There are very good websites that sift through all the information out there. One of these is the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-safety. I, and the rest of the pediatricians at Summit Medical Group, whole-heartedly support fully vaccinating children according to the AAP/CDC recommendations. If I did not think vaccinations were safe and effective, I would not have vaccinated my own children.