As children prepare for the new school year, and amid the largest measles outbreak in the U.S. in almost 20 years, the number of vaccine-hesitant families has grown so much that the World Health Organization has named vaccine hesitancy a global health threat.
Concerns among parents resulting in them not vaccinating their children against measles, whooping cough and other diseases are ill-founded, and put kids at risk of serious health problems and complications that can result in death. One misconception about vaccinations is that they may cause children to develop autism.
“False claims about vaccine side effects, particularly by online activists, have made some parents concerned about a link between autism and immunizations,” said Dr. Margaret M. Khoury, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “Such claims are absolutely not true, as numerous studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. In fact, most side effects from vaccines are minor, if they occur at all.”
How vaccines work
When a child gets a vaccine, he or she receives a tiny amount of a weakened or dead form of the organism that causes the disease, Dr. Khoury explained. This amount is not enough to give the child the actual disease. But, it’s enough to cause the immune system to make antibodies that can recognize and attack the organism if you’re ever exposed to it.
Immunizations not only save the child’s life, they also protect the child’s family. “Vaccinations are the best way to help protect you, your child, and loved ones from certain infectious diseases,” Dr. Khoury explained. “They help reduce the spread of disease to others, and they prevent epidemics.”
When immunizations should begin
Immunizations typically start right after birth, and many are given throughout a baby’s first 23 months, according to Kaiser Permanente. Booster shots (the later doses of any vaccines that need to be repeated over time) occur throughout life.
Fewer immunizations are needed after age 6. However, older children and teens need shots, too, such as those for bacterial meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. Some shots — such as tetanus, shingles, or flu shots — are also given during adulthood.
When it comes to vaccinating your child, and with so much information out there, it can be difficult for parents to know where to find the facts. Below are some valuable resources parents can use to make an informed decision for their children:
• Vaccination hesitancy: Causes and consequences
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Making the Vaccine Decision
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Diseases and the Vaccines That Prevent Them
“Vaccines are safe, and they can save your child’s life.” Dr. Khoury stressed. “When it comes to vaccinating your child, it’s important to separate fact from fiction. If you have any concerns, please make sure to discuss them with your doctor.”