I have been following the situation around the rise in number of cases of vaccine-preventable diseases closely over the past few years, and I feel strongly it is time I summarize my feelings about this now.
This is a common question that I regularly hear in my office. It has become one of the hottest topics over the past decade. For me the answer is a resounding “Yes” and here’s why.
Let me start by saying that vaccinating your child is a personal choice. Nobody can make you, or keep you from, vaccinating your child. These days, you can find a lot of information on the Internet – and a lot of different opinions about vaccinations can be found as well. How do you know what the “right” one is? All I can try to do is to present the evidence-based information as best as I can. Then you as a parent, have all the information you need to make an informed decision. Whatever decision you make, it is a personal one and one that should be respected by your healthcare provider.
The quickest answer would be: vaccines save lives. Since the introduction of vaccines many decades ago, millions of children have been saved from the devastating effects of many diseases, such as the paralyzing effect of polio and measles, and the respiratory problems of whooping cough, just to mention a few. Vaccines are one of the contributing factors to the increase in life expectancy that has occurred in the past century.
I will not vaccinate my child based on religious beliefs.
In certain religions, vaccinations go against religious beliefs. In my opinion, this is the only position that cannot be debated. One cannot debate someone’s religion. Your healthcare provider should respect your religion/beliefs and together you can discuss as to how best prevent exposure to the diseases.
I want to vaccinate my child, but I want to wait until my child is 2 years old and “the immune system is stronger”.
This is a statement I hear more and more, and from a lot of well-educated parents as well. There is no medical evidence at all to suggest that vaccines work better in an older child. There is a lot of evidence that shows that the populations most at risk to be severely ill or even die from diseases like measles, whooping cough and Haemophilus influenza are the very young (<2 yrs of age) and the very old (>65 yrs).
Vaccinations have a lot of side effects.
The most common side effects of vaccinations are pain, redness at injection site and mild fever in first 24 hrs after the vaccination. Seizures, Guillan-Barre syndrome and other side effects have been described in the first 30 days after a vaccination has occurred, however the incidence of these symptoms was not higher in those vaccinated versus those who were not vaccinated. (In other words, those who were not vaccinated had exactly the same chance of getting a seizure or Guillan-Barre syndrome compared to those who received a vaccination.)
It might also be reassuring to know that there is still ongoing monitoring around the world when it comes to side effects of vaccinations. For example, in Canada every child that gets admitted to the hospital for whatever reason (broken bones, asthma, dehydration, infections, seizures, etc.) will be asked if he/she was vaccinated in the 30 days prior to admission. If they were, then it will be flagged as a potential adverse event and followed closely.
Vaccinations cause autism.
This statement can probably give rise to the most heated arguments in a pediatrician’s office. It probably does not help that celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy (who has a child with autism) publicly speak out against vaccinations. It is hard without a medical background to then be critical of what such a celebrity says. “She is famous, she is on TV, she is on Oprah, therefore it must be true”.
What I tend to say, is that Jenny McCarthy is an expert on her child, however she is not an expert on autism, nor is she a medical doctor.
When did all of this start? In 1998 Dr Wakefield from the UK published an article in the very prestigious medical journal the Lancet linking MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine to autism and bowel disorders in children. That study caused public panic and led to the decrease of vaccinations worldwide. This in turn has led to more deaths from diseases that could have been prevented with vaccines (more specifically measles).
Twenty other studies have tried to replicate Dr Wakefield’s study, but could not find any link. It turns out now, that Dr Wakefield’s study was not carried out in a proper way, that some of the investigations and findings were incorrect and that he acted unethically. As an example, he paid children at his kid’s birthday party $8 to draw blood from them. The study has since been removed from the Lancet’s archives (something that has never been done in that Journal’s history) and Dr Wakefield’s medical license got revoked this past year.
So, at this point in time, there is NO medical evidence to suggest any link between vaccinations and autism. Like I previously said, 20 studies have been done on this topic already, and there is still ongoing research.
I have read a book that says it is better to split-up the vaccinations.
Dr. Sears published a book where he shows “evidence” that it’s better for your child to split-up vaccinations. So instead of getting one needle that contains the vaccines for diphteria, polio, pertussis and Haemophilus influenza type B, your child is better off getting four separate needles – one for each disease.
A wonderful article was written in the well-respected Journal of Pediatrics in 2009 regarding this alternative vaccination schedule and how the information and suggestions Dr. Sears makes are frankly incorrect. If you are considering delaying your child’s vaccinations, or if you are considering splitting-up the vaccines and having them administered on an alternative schedule, please read this article before you decide to do that.
There is mercury in the vaccines.
In the past, some of the vaccines contained traces of mercury in the form of thimerosal. Many studies have looked at any adverse events from this and none were found. nevertheless, since 2001 all vaccines for routine immunization of children in Canada and the United States are produced without thimerosal.
I hope the above information will provide you with the basis of making an informed decision on whether or not you should vaccinate your child. However, if a parent chooses not to vaccinate their child based on the information at hand, all should accept and respect that parent’s decision.
- Vaccinations prevent disease and can save lives
- There is no evidence to suggest that postponing vaccines till later age is beneficial to the child
- There is no evidence to suggest that the “alternative schedule for vaccinations” is better for the child
- There is no link between vaccines and autism
- Healthcare providers should present parents with information regarding vaccinations, and should respect a parents’ decision when it comes to vaccinating their children.
Websites with good reading material on vaccinations: