Understanding Vaccines

Vaccines, I still remember one of my first vaccinations! It was 1960, I was in kindergarten, at my elementary school, standing in line to take a sugar cube, to protect me from polio and a shot to protect me from diphtheria and tetanus. Also, I remember my uncle, Jim, who had polio as a child. As an adult, he still walked with a bad limp, needed a cane and could barely use his left hand and arm. My parents were excited to take me to get vaccines to prevent diseases they feared, because they had firsthand knowledge of their devastating effects. Today, our parents and many grandparents have only heard of the diseases, that we immunize for. This is all because of our vaccination program, which has saved so many lives and prevented many, many more children from growing up suffering long term complications from these infections and diseases, we are trying to prevent.

We give vaccines to our youngest patients, so we have to make sure that they are safe. From the time a vaccine is being considered and until it is approved for use, rigorous testing is done to ensure that it is both safe and effective. Also, through these studies, we can determine the most appropriate doses, the age when they should be given, the best intervals between vaccines and which ones can be given as combinations. Once approved, by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, we continue to monitor the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. Today’s vaccines, even though more in number, than in years past are actually safer and they contain less antigens, but produce better immunity.

Over the past few years, questions and concerns have arisen, regarding the safety of vaccines. Do too many vaccines overwhelm the child’s immune system? Does the measles, mumps & rubella vaccine (MMR) or the preservative thimerosal cause autism? Thimerosal was never present in MMR but was present in several vaccines used in the 1990s, but has since been removed from all routinely used childhood vaccines with the exception of flu. Research has been conducted on all of these topics, and the studies continue to find vaccines to be a safe and effective way to prevent serious disease. These studies do not show any link between autism and MMR vaccine, thimerosal or multiple vaccines being given at the same time.

I am glad that my parents took me to get that first vaccine and I am so pleased that my patients trust me to provide them with these safe and effective, life-saving vaccines. If you have questions, please talk to your pediatrician, we can provide you the studies I mentioned above and will be glad to discuss your concerns.