Recently parents have been needling me about whether or not their child really needs all those vaccinations we are now giving.  Well, I need to make some points about this important topic, so here goes.

Vaccines truly help prevent serious infectious diseases and save lives. They are 90 to 95% effective and have reduced vaccine preventable infectious diseases in this country by up to 99%, saving millions of lives.  They are so important for the control of many infectious diseases that were once common killers in this country including polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, German measles, mumps, tetanus, and two of the three major germs that cause meningitis. If we stopped vaccinating or reduced our rate of vaccinating – which has occurred in parts of this country – these diseases would come back and the consequences would be devastating as evidenced by fatal outbreaks of meningitis in Minnesota and of whooping cough in California in the past year or two.

Even though babies are protected at birth with their mother’s immunity, this protection only lasts for a few months.  While some moms believe that their baby will get all the immune protection they need against life-threatening infections by breast-feeding, they will not. Additionally, some parents think that vaccines weaken the immune system when they actually strengthen it.

Let me try to puncture some of your doubts:

1.     If the reason you are worried is because you think vaccines  will be painful to your child, the doctors and nurses who give these shots have a variety of techniques and strategies to reduce the discomfort as much as possible.

2.     If you are worried about vaccines being too new, be aware that vaccines are tested for years and years before they become the standard of care.  They do not receive approval unless the side effects are minimal – usually minor discomfort at the site of the shot and/or low-grade fever – all of which are carefully studied and restudied by agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control.

3.     As for the possibility that vaccines cause autism – which has been in the news recently – that has been disproven in scientific article after article no matter what you may hear otherwise from friends or even celebrities on television. We still need to better identify causes for autism, but vaccines are not one of them.  For some assurance, ask your child’s doctor if he or she vaccinated their own children and you’ll find out they did.

Hopefully, tips like this (and I don’t mean needle tips) will allow me to take my best shot at this topic and inject just the right attitude so that you are sure that your child gets fully immunized.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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