There has been a lot of debate around childhood vaccines over the past few years. However, vaccines play a pivotal role in the health of children and our communities. It is estimated that over the past two decades, vaccines have prevented 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations, and 732,000 deaths in the United States alone.
Jacob Maciejewski, MD, a pediatrician with ProMedica Physicians, explains that vaccines are extremely important in preventing the spread of dangerous, contagious diseases.
“By vaccinating our children, we protect them from potentially life-threatening illnesses, and also protect those around us who are unable to be vaccinated, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or others with a weakened immune system,” says Dr. Maciejewski.
How Vaccines Work
Vaccines teach our bodies what it takes to fight off a foreign invader.
“Vaccines contain antigens which are essentially proteins and sugar molecules found on the surface of a virus or bacteria,” explains Dr. Maciejewski. “These antigens are injected into the body allowing the immune system to recognize them as foreign. The immune system is then able to build a memory and form antibodies so that when it is challenged with the real thing, the virus or bacteria is destroyed before it has the chance to cause infection.”
Common Vaccine Myths
There are several myths surrounding vaccines, one of the most common being that they can cause autism spectrum disorders. However, scientific research has repeatedly disproved this myth. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have conducted or sponsored more than 10 different studies in the past 13 years to examine the relationship between vaccines and autism. These studies, which examined more than a million children, were unable to find any links between the two. Health organizations such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), World Health Organization (WHO) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have conducted similar reviews and studies and strongly support the safety of immunizations.
Another popular myth is that children receive too many vaccines at a single visit which can overwhelm their immune system. Dr. Maciejewski explains that this is also false. Before vaccines are administered to children, they are studied to see how they react when given together to make sure they don’t interfere with one another or the rest of the body.
Studies have also addressed the question on whether too many vaccines at once can cause developmental delays in children. A 2010 study in the Journal of Pediatrics compared children who received vaccines on time versus children who received a delayed vaccination schedule or no vaccines at all in the first year of life. It was found both groups performed similarly on developmental testing at the age of 7-10 years and there was no increased risk for ADHD.
When to Vaccinate Your Child
The CDC recommends the following vaccine schedule for children from birth through 18 years old. Click here to download a printable chart.
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s vaccines, you should first talk to your doctor. They will have the best understanding of your child’s health and risks for certain diseases.