Few things in medicine work 100% of the time, but vaccines are one of the most effective weapons we have against disease — they work in 85% to 99% of cases. They greatly reduce your child’s risk of serious illness (particularly when more and more people use them) and give diseases fewer chances to take hold in a population.
It can be difficult to watch kids get a shot, but the short-term pain is nothing compared with suffering through a potentially deadly bout of diphtheria, pertussis, or measles.
Why do kids who are healthy, active, and eating well need to be immunized?
Vaccinations are intended to help keep healthy kids healthy. Because vaccines work by protecting the body before disease strikes, if you wait until your child gets sick, it will be too late for the vaccine to work. The best time to immunize kids is when they’re healthy.
Can immunizations cause a bad reaction in my child?
The most common reactions to vaccines are minor and include:
- redness and swelling where the shot was given
- soreness at the site where the shot was given
In rare cases, immunizations can trigger more serious problems, such as seizures or severe allergic reactions. If your child has a history of allergies to food or medication, or has had a problem with a vaccine previously, make sure to let the doctor know before any vaccines are given. Every year, millions of kids are safely vaccinated and very few experience significant side effects.
Meanwhile, research continually improves the safety of immunizations. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now advises doctors to use a diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine that includes only specific parts of the pertussis cell instead of the entire killed cell. This vaccine, called DTaP, has been associated with even fewer side effects.
Do immunizations or thimerosal cause autism?
Numerous studies have found no link between vaccines and autism (a developmental disorder that’s characterized by mild to severe impairment of communication and social interaction skills). Likewise, a groundbreaking 2004 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that thimerosal (an organic mercury compound that’s been used as a preservative in vaccines since the 1930s) does not cause autism. Still, some parents have opted not to have their children immunized, putting them at great risk of contracting deadly diseases.
The MMR vaccine, especially, has come under fire despite many scientific reports indicating that there’s no clear evidence linking the vaccine to autism. In fact, in 2004 a long-disputed 1998 study that suggested a possible link between autism and the MMR vaccine was retracted. Even before the retraction, not only had other studies found no link, but the controversial 1998 study was rejected by all major health organizations, including the AAP, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
There’s also no reason to believe that thimerosal is linked to autism, according to the 2004 IOM report. Nevertheless, in an effort to reduce childhood exposure to mercury and other heavy metals, thimerosal began being removed from kids’ vaccines in 1999. Now, vaccines for infants and young children contain no or very little thimerosal. And recent studies have not shown any cognitive and behavioral problems in babies who might have received these thimerosal-containing vaccines.
So what could explain the increased rates of autism in recent years? For one thing, there’s a broader definition of autism that can be applied to more kids who show varying degrees of symptoms. A greater awareness of the condition among health professionals also has led to more diagnoses.
And although the number of children diagnosed with autism may be increasing, the rates of MMR vaccination are not. In London, diagnoses of autistic disorders have been on the rise since 1979 but rates of MMR vaccination haven’t increased since routine MMR vaccination began in 1988.
In addition, the average age of diagnosis of autism has been found to be the same both in children who have and who have not received the MMR vaccine. What many researchers are discovering is that subtle symptoms of autism are often present before a child’s first birthday — sometimes even in early infancy — but often go unnoticed until the symptoms are more obvious to parents.