Refusing, Delaying, And Alternating The Vaccine Schedule: Helpful Or Harmful? Part 2

November 16, 2011

Body

...continued from Part 1

I remember holding my daughter’s legs at her 12-month well child visit as she received one shot after another. In total, she received 5 shots that day. As a parent, it’s difficult to watch your little one suffer the pain of repeated shots. In fact, since most of the childhood vaccines require more than one dose your child could receive as many as 9 shots at one time and up to 24 shots total.

That’s a lot of shots, isn’t it? So what do all of these shots mean for your child?

It means that your child will be protected against 14 different diseases by the age of 2.

Yes, 14. That means there are 14 diseases to which your child will not lose a limb. Or lose their hearing. Or develop liver cancer. Or be hospitalized. Or die.

However, in order to gain all of that vast protection your child must receive multiple shots and for some parents it simply seems like “too many, too soon.” For this reason, they may ask their doctor to withhold, delay or space out vaccines.

But is it really too many vaccines too soon? Are infants’ immune systems capable of handling all of those vaccines?

The number of vaccines given to children today is much more than it was 30 years ago; however, the immunological challenge from vaccines today is much lower. For example, 30 years ago children received 7 vaccines which contained more than 3,000 bacterial and viral proteins. Fortunately, scientific advances have improved our vaccines, making them safer and more refined. As a result, children today receive 14 vaccines that contain about 160 immunological components including viral proteins, bacterial proteins, and complex sugars. In short, it’s not the number of vaccines that is important but rather the number of immunological components contained in the vaccines.

But back to the other frequently asked question — can vaccines overwhelm a baby’s immune system?

Categorically and unequivocally – NO.

A baby is capable of mounting an immune response at a very early age. Let’s not underestimate the fact that babies encounter millions of bacteria from the moment they are born. Bacteria live on the food we eat, in our homes, on our pets, and on our hands. You get the idea. Yet, infants are able to develop huge quantities of antibodies to combat these bacteria. Needless to say, the immunological challenge from vaccines is a drop in the bucket compared to what infants encounter every day. Moreover, young infants are able to build immune responses that save them from disease. For example, if an infant born to a mother with hepatitis B infection is given the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth, they are 70-90% less likely to contract the disease.

Vaccine-preventable diseases, however, are devastating to infants. Take pertussis for instance. In the 2010 pertussis epidemic, nearly 10,000 cases were reported. Sadly, 63% of the hospitalized cases were in infants less than 3 months old. 72% were in infants less than 6 months old. 9 of the 10 deaths were in infants less than 2 months old.

In truth, the current immunization schedule is designed to protect infants when they are most vulnerable to disease. Refusing, delaying, or spacing out vaccines only leaves infants susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases during the most vulnerable period of their life.

As parents, we are often unable to protect our children from unforeseen health problems. But vaccines give us an incredible opportunity to protect our kids from diseases such as measles, Hib meningitis, influenza, and pertussis.

I, for one, am grateful for that opportunity.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of Refusing, Delaying, And Alternating The Vaccine Schedule:  Helpful Or Harmful?

Editor’s Note: While readers are welcome to share their opinions, please keep the conversation friendly and polite. Comments are monitored and any inflammatory or inappropriate remarks will be removed.

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