With the rash of unfounded claims about the risks of vaccination, many parents are rethinking its necessity. Are vaccines really safe? Are they even necessary in the modern world? Here’s what you need to know about vaccinating your child.
“First, parents need to know that vaccines save lives,” explains Jan N. Widerman, DO, an osteopathic pediatrician from Philadelphia.
According to Dr. Widerman, the use of vaccinations has been one of the biggest medical breakthroughs of the 20th century, turning hundreds of thousands of infections, paralysis, and deaths per year into a mere handful.
“When my patients question the necessity of vaccination, I remind them that it is because of vaccines that we are on the verge of eliminating diseases like polio from the world,” says Dr. Widerman. “Without vaccines, potentially deadly diseases and illnesses such as hepatitis, diphtheria, and tetanus could spread to large portions of the population and become serious threats to public health.”
How Vaccines Work
Vaccines, or immunizations, contain antigens that cause diseases; however, the antigens in vaccines are weakened or killed. Exposure to such weakened antigens stimulates the immune system to create antibodies that prevent disease.
"Children and infants are exposed to hundreds of antigens every day," adds Dr. Widerman. “Thus, an immunization with a typical exposure of only three antigens causes no significant stress at all to the immune system.”
Before any vaccine is released to the public, it receives extensive scientific testing to guarantee both its safety and effectiveness. Based on this testing, recommendations on type and schedule of vaccinations are released twice a year by the Centers for Disease Control, the American College of Immunization Practices, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Why Vaccines Are Important
Still, while vaccines are safe for most children, in some rare cases a child’s immune system may not be able to handle vaccination. According to Dr. Widerman, children with weakened immune systems, who are at a higher risk for infection, rely all the more on the vaccination and overall health of the rest of the population.
“Children who have certain types of cancer or certain diseases, or who are taking drugs that lower the body's ability to resist infection, should not receive vaccines,” states Dr. Widerman.
For this reason, Dr. Widerman advises parents to check with their child’s pediatrician before getting their child vaccinated.
According to Dr. Widerman, the real danger associated with vaccines is the unvaccinated child, who then puts these children, who are unable to get vaccines, at risk.
“Vaccines help to protect not only the child being vaccinated, but also the child who is not vaccinated,” explains Dr. Widerman. “If the vast majority of children are vaccinated, then it will be much more difficult for a disease to spread.”
This is why the government requires children to have a certain number of vaccinations before they are allowed to attend school.
“As a parent, one of the most important things you can do for your child is to have them immunized,” concludes Dr. Widerman.