Despite my pediatrician background, one topic I’ve avoided on this blog is vaccination. Having personally experienced the transition from near-complete parental acceptance of vaccines to near-daily opposition during my time in clinical practice, the topic has left me dismayed and weary.
But while I was able to have intelligent and thoughtful conversations with my patients’ parents—conversations that led to full immunization of their children 99+% of the time—the same does not happen online. The amount of anti-vaccine vitriol and misinformation out there, not to mention the harshness with which people sling it, has left me silent and stunned.
But after recently hearing the ridiculous comments about vaccines made by Donald Trump during the latest GOP debate and the sorry excuse for a counterattack by the two physician candidates on the stage (who squandered a great opportunity to inform the public, in my opinion), I can’t hold back any longer.
I’m not going to talk about the benefits of vaccines, which are many. One need only read articles, watch historic films, or talk to their grandparents to see how effective and life-saving vaccines are.
I’m not going to get into the risks of vaccines, because although serious outcomes exist, they are very rare, especially since the acellular pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine came along. (It was the whole-cell pertussis vaccine that caused more side effects.) But oftentimes the adverse event is only temporal to the immunization, meaning a condition developed within a few weeks of the vaccine but can’t be said to be caused by the vaccine. Kids get vaccines every two to three months the first year of life. That makes immunizations an easy target to blame.
I’m not going to address the non-existent link between autism and vaccines. It’s been thoroughly debunked by now. But thank you Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy for making the job of every pediatrician, family practitioner, and nurse practitioner enormously more difficult.
And I’m definitely not going to discuss the bizarre and false accusation that doctors make lots of money from immunizations. In fact, it’s often the opposite. Many practices lose money on vaccine administration. But we give vaccines to keep people healthy. Pediatricians love kids, and we want to see them thrive and develop to their full potential. The last thing we want to do is hurt them.
The Immune System
What I do want to address is the common misconception that too many vaccines overwhelm the child’s immune system.
This is simply not true. Here’s why:
1) Yes, there are more vaccines today than there were in the past, but because of improved vaccine development, today’s immunizations contain far fewer antigens (a foreign substance that produces an immune response) than yesterday’s immunizations, even with the greater number of vaccines given. Though it’s older, this table taken from Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, illustrates that statement.
2) The antigens children encounter in the environment on a daily basis are far more numerous than the antigens they’re exposed to from the vaccine schedule. One lick from the dog, one mouthful of dirt, one suck on the pacifier Mom just stuck in her mouth, and you’re looking at a kaleidoscope of organisms Junior has now eaten, inhaled, or topically absorbed. And that’s okay. That’s how we build immunity. We do this over our lifetime, and the antibodies we make to vaccines are a grain of sand in the sandbox.
Slowing down the recommended immunization schedule does nothing to protect an infant’s immunity. Rather it puts him or her at risk for preventable infectious diseases.
So that’s what I wanted to say. As always, I appreciate your time and thank you for reading.
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