Immunization Myth Vs. Fact

With all the conflicting information out there, it's important to separate the fact from fiction when choosing what's best for your child

By Dwain Hebda

 
Immunization Myth vs. Fact

As all new parents know, almost from the second their little bundle of joy utters his or her first cry, there exists a constant bombardment of confusing and often conflicting information, messages, warnings and even sales pitches concerning th health risks facing their child. From well-intentioned relatives around the Thanksgiving table to popular media, everyone has an opinion on what’s best for baby. 

Some of the old wives’ tales are easily dismissed, but those cloaked in so-called research are harder to shake, such as the rash of stories that have cropped up in recent years over the safety of infant and early childhood immunizations.

The truth is, the only thing about immunizations that threaten a child’s health is not getting them, said pediatrician Dr. Dennis Kuo of Arkansas Children’s Hospital and president of Arkansas Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

“Immunization is one of our greatest public health achievements; the Centers for Disease Control declared it as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century,” he said. “A lot of the illnesses that we used to see day in and day out in pediatrics, you just don’t see them anymore.

“I finished my training in 2000, and I’ve never seen a case of measles. I’ve never seen polio. Even in my practicing career, I went from seeing chicken pox all the time to seeing basically no chicken pox, and among our current crop of pediatrics residents, most of them have never seen a case of chicken pox.”

And as for the reports that recently claimed to link vaccines with autism and other harmful side effects, Kuo is blunt. “The autism link,” he said, “is absolutely zero.” 

Kuo speaks with such confidence because he, like health organizations and fellow doctors all over the country, has reviewed the research supposedly showing the link between immunizations and autism and found it flawed. Meanwhile, evidence that speaks to the safety of the vaccines—and the absolute necessity that they be administered—is abundant and clear.

As a matter of fact, Kuo pointed out an ironic twist in the discussion over the safety of vaccines in that once studies were presented showing supposed dangers, the resulting publicity drove the medical community to even more vigorous research. “The allegation of autism, for example: There are dozens and dozens of studies which never found a link between the two. And for major organizations like the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force to come right out and say there is no link just tells you how much evidence there is that says the vaccine is perfectly safe and does not cause autism in any way, shape or form.”

Which is not to say that childhood immunizations don’t face issues when it comes to the general public. For one thing, vaccines are expensive both for individual physicians and for lower-income populations, particularly those without health care benefits. While many if not most physicians still administer vaccines as a matter of ethics, doing so does represent a certain financial loss, which can be hard to swallow, particularly in practices that predominantly serve the poor.

Another dilemma health care professionals constantly battle arises from vaccines being the victim of their own effectiveness. “Vaccinations have been so successful that we collectively start developing short memories about how bad these diseases once were. There’s enough misinformation about these diseases that some of them are regarded not as harmful, but just a rite of passage,” he said. “But historically, chicken pox was a deadly disease for a couple hundred kids a year in the United States, not to mention the scarring and the secondary infections and the hospitalizations and everything else.

“There’s also some who say, 'Well, diseases aren’t around and many other kids get vaccinated, so my child doesn’t need these vaccinations because my child is already protected.' But, at any given time there are going to be kids who cannot be vaccinated because they are either too young to get the vaccine, or they can’t get the vaccine because of illness or some other reason. And because of that, it doesn’t take a whole lot for any of these diseases to just come right back.”

Science hasn’t been standing still when it comes to immunizations; Kuo said research and development have produced vaccines that are better tolerated and that feature far fewer potential side effects. He said such improvements not only boost the medical community’s confidence in immunizations, they also provide him peace of mind on a personal level.

“None of us doctors would ever want to put any of our kids at risk for any reason,” he said. “Vaccines are constantly being re- evaluated for safety and effectiveness. If you compare the vaccines today versus the ones that we gave even going back a couple of decades, they’re significantly safer. And, the number of vaccines we give today and the different diseases we protect against have really increased in the last 20 years.” 

Immunization Timetable

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established guidelines for infant and childhood immunizations. According to Dr. Dennis Kuo of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, it is critical that parents vaccinate their children according to prescribed age schedules for immunizations to have the optimal positive effect.

“The evidence for the safety of vaccines is probably stronger than just about anything else we have out there,” he said. “The schedule is the way it is because the CDC considers the effectiveness of vaccines, the side effects and how they all work with each other when given in the exact way that the CDC recommends.” 


BIRTH -12 MONTHS

BIRTH: 
Hepatitis B

MONTHS 2 AND 4: 
DTaP (Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough [pertussis]) 
Polio (IPV)
Pneumococcal (PCV)
Rotavirus (RV) 
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

MONTH 6: 
DTaP (Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough [pertussis]) 
Polio (IPV)
Pneumococcal (PCV)
Rotavirus (RV) 
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

MONTH 12: 
Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) 
Chicken pox (Varicella) 
Hepatitis A

REQUIRED ADDITIONAL DOSAGES:

  • The second dose of Hepatitis B vaccine may be administered during months 1 or 2; the third dose may be administered between months 6 to 18.
  • The second dose of Polio vaccine may be administered during months 6 to 18.
  • The second dose of Pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae type b may be administered during months 12 to 15.
  • Starting in month 6, children should also receive a flu shot, repeated annually thereafter.

Visit cdc.gov for more information.