Expert Advice: 5 Answers to Your Most Common Questions About Vaccines
The topic of vaccinations can be stressful and confusing, and vaccination schedules for kids is always a hot topic among parents and caregivers. Dr. Katherine Williamson is a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Orange County and deals with parents and kids daily at her busy practice.
Some of the most common questions parents have for her are about vaccinations, especially the vaccination schedule for kids. Dr. Williamson says it's important to know that vaccine schedules are determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is comprised of public health physicians and researchers whose aim is to keep children and adults healthy. It's a national schedule, and there is no variation between states, which helps keep things simple for families who might move frequently.
Parents have lots of questions and Dr. Williamson says, "Whether I am talking about vaccines or healthy eating, I make a point to connect with my patients and their parents on key health issues. I listen to and address parents' concerns. Parents and pediatricians have the same goal, which is to keep kids healthy and safe. I explain to parents about the safety of vaccines in a way they can relate to, which means taking the abundance of reliable scientific data about the safety of vaccines and making it more personal."
Most Commonly Asked Questions from Parents
Below are some of the most frequent questions Dr. Williamson receives from parents about vaccines along with her answers:
- "I don't want to give my kid more than one or two vaccines at once, because can't that overwhelm their immune system?"
"Absolutely not," says Dr. Williamson, "The amount of protein in vaccines that a child's immune system is exposed to is 10,000 to 100,000 times less than what the immune system is exposed to in a common cold. And unlike the common cold, the vaccines will not turn into something. A cold can become a sinus infection or ear infection. So, whether your kid is getting one or five vaccines at a time, it is still a fraction of what their immune system will be exposed to compared to the common cold, and without the risk of actually getting sick."
- "I try to give my child healthy organic foods and keep her environment free of chemicals, so it scares me to give my child a vaccine that has chemicals in it. Can't that be harmful to developing babies and kids?"
Dr. Williamson says, "The preservatives used in vaccines are necessary and safe. They are necessary because the preservatives keep bacteria and yeast from growing in the vaccines. They are also safe and already exist in our natural environment, meaning kids are exposed to these preservatives in their lives outside of vaccines. Moreover, the amount of preservatives in vaccines is infinitesimally less than everyday exposure for children."
- "What about vaccines causing autism?"
"There was a research study in 1998 which raised concerns about a possible link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism that was later found to be seriously flawed and fraudulent. The paper was subsequently retracted by the journal that published it, and the physician discredited. Unfortunately, its publication set off a panic that led to dropping immunization rates and subsequent outbreaks of these diseases. There is no evidence of a link between MMR vaccine and autism or autistic disorders" says Dr. Williamson.
- "What about 'optional' vaccines like the flu?"
Dr. Williamson recommends that every child (and adult) over six months of age receive the influenza vaccine each year. She says, "The first time kids get vaccinated for influenza, they need two doses because the immune system needs an adequate booster to mount a response to influenza. You cannot get the flu from getting the flu vaccine. The vaccine prevents influenza, one of the most serious respiratory viruses. However, it does not protect against other strains of viruses."
- "I'm not sure about the HPV vaccine for my older child. What should I know?"
The HPV vaccine protects against HPV infections and HPV-associated diseases such as cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, oropharyngeal and anal cancers, and genital warts. Dr. Williamson recommends it for patients between 9 and 26 years old.
She says, "It only takes one exposure to HPV for it to turn into cervical cancer. Those who initiate the vaccine series before age 15 receive two doses at least six months apart, and those who initiate the series after age 15 receive three doses.
Receiving the HPV vaccine does not mean a child is more likely to become sexually active. A 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics found no difference between the number of pregnancies, rates of sexually transmitted disease testing, or discussions regarding birth control between girls who had received the vaccine and those who had not.
If parents are comfortable, it's actually a good time to talk about sexuality and safe sex practices. It can be used as a teaching tool but does not make adolescents more sexually active."
Additional Vaccine Resources
Dr. Williamson stresses the importance for parents and guardians to follow this vaccination schedule for kids outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Additionally, review this easy-to-read graphic with detailed information on each vaccine for birth through age six and ages seven through 18.
The schedule outlined by the AAP and CDC has been researched and proven to be the most effective and safest way for children to be vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases. "It's important to know that there's no existing alternative schedule that has been studied to show it's as safe and effective" says Dr. Williamson.
"All diseases for which kids are vaccinated in U.S. have the potential to be fatal, and we still see instances of these diseases. While some are in higher rates than others, all have increased in frequency in areas where children are not vaccinated, and international travel makes even diseases such as polio a potential risk."
Keeping your child vaccinated and utilizing proper hand washing techniques is key to prevent illness.