I suppose this will get me into hot water with the anti-vaccine crowd, but discussing the pros/cons of vaccines is a daily task for me.  I spend a lot of time convincing people that vaccines are safe.  So, to save myself time, I made a handout for this purpose. Let me just say that I would rather not jump headlong into the debate.  This topic has been covered ad nauseum on various places on the Internet.  The points I make in this post are what I see as being the best scientific information.  Be that as it may, I suspect this post will attract the usual opposition.

Sigh.  I guess I am diving into the mix.  Oh well.

Here goes nothing:

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Immunization Questions and Answers

A lot of our patients have heard a lot of things about immunizations, some of them very frightening. Here are some answers to some common questions.

Are Immunizations Safe?

There is no way that we would ever recommend giving something unsafe to children we care for. All immunizations have been studied extensively by many researchers and even small questions about their safety are passed on to us. We feel that there is no compelling evidence at this time that any of the immunizations we give are unsafe.

How sure are you about this safety?

All of the doctors and staff in our office who have children have given them the appropriate immunizations. Do you think we would take unnecessary risks with our children?

What about the risk of autism?

Despite evidence to the contrary, there continues to be people who insist that immunizations increase the risk of autism. The rate of autism has been rising over the past number of years, but the criteria for making the diagnosis have been changed significantly. What we would not have called autism in the past is being labeled as mild autism. Unfortunately, some people are very vocal about opinions that are not informed by the evidence.

What about the stories about children that make it sound like immunizations cause autism?

This type of evidence is called anecdotal evidence. While this type of evidence is not useless, it takes much better evidence to prove something. Here is how anecdotal evidence can lead to wrong conclusions: if a person gets an antibiotic for a virus infection and then gets better, it does not mean the antibiotic made the infection go away. The person simply got better on their own, and would have done so with or without the antibiotic. In the same way, development of autism after immunizations are given does not prove anything. The fact is, children develop autism right around the age that immunizations are given. It would be equally valid to say that baby food causes autism.

Does Mercury play a role?

Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative that used to be added to immunizations. Since the symptoms of autism are similar to that of mercury poisoning, some have suggested that this is what caused some cases of autism. But since thimerosal was removed from vaccines (due to public worry), there has been absolutely no change in the incidence of autism in the US. None of our childhood vaccines contain thimerosal.

What about “herd immunity?”

Herd immunity is the protection that un-immunized children get from the fact that the rest of the population is immunized. While this does confer some protection, with the public fears causing an increasing number of people to decline immunizations, there has been an increase in diseases protected by immunizations (such as measles). Even if protection holds during childhood, the un-immunized person is subsequently at risk of developing the disease as an adult – and many of these diseases are far worse to get as an adult than as a child.

Can I just wait until my child gets older to immunize them?

Since we don’t think there is any danger with the vaccines, we don’t recommend putting them off. At a minimum, however, we strongly urge parents to give their children vaccines for diseases that could cause harm in infancy, including:

  • Prevnar – protects against meningitis and other infections in childhood. Even gives some protection against ear infections.
  • HIB – also protects against meningitis and other infections of childhood.
  • Rotavirus vaccine – this is a vaccine against a common form of diarrhea in young infants. Rotavirus causes many hospitalizations and some deaths.

What about the new Meningitis Vaccine?

The new vaccine against meninigococcus protects against one of the deadliest diseases around. This form of meningitis has a 50% fatality rate, kills within hours, and generally hits healthy young people. Thankfully, it is a rare disease. Obviously, we strongly recommend this vaccine.

What about the HPV Vaccine (the “Cervical Cancer” vaccine)?

Cervical cancer is very strongly associated with the Human Papilloma Virus, which is a sexually-transmitted virus that causes genital warts. The rate of infection is very high in young people in our country. Some parents argue that since this is a sexually-transmitted disease, abstinence will prevent this infection. However, even if a person is abstinent until marriage it is still possible to get HPV if their new spouse was not abstinent earlier in their life. While we do strongly urge abstinence, we strongly urge all young girls to get this vaccine.

Where can I find more information?

The American Academy of Pediatrics Web Site: www.cispimmunize.org

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