Vaccinations and Kids Health Concerns
By Meagan Conwell, MSN RN CNL
Over the years, there has been much controversy over vaccinations for children and today the debate rages on. Many people opt not to vaccinate their children due to various concerns about the safety and necessity of vaccines. Although a low number of children are not vaccinated – ranging from 6% to 29% depending on the vaccine, according to the 2014 national vaccination data – there are risks to these children and society as a whole when they are not vaccinated. Some common concerns about vaccinations are addressed here, along with explanations as to why vaccinations should not be avoided.
Many parents are concerned about the safety of vaccines and the ingredients they contain. What people may not realize is that vaccines go through a significant amount of research, testing, and reviews by scientists, doctors, and other healthcare professionals before they are ever released to the general public. Thimerosal, a preservative that was used in vaccines to prevent bacterial contamination, was believed by some to be linked to autism. This is untrue – it was actually suspected to lead to a different type of neurological disorder, but even this was never proven after years of research. But as a precautionary measure, thimerosal was removed from all vaccines by 2002 in the U.S.
Some people believe that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism. This belief first came into focus from a report on a small study of the measles illness performed in England in 1998. The study was based on 12 children – not nearly large enough a sample to be considered reliable from a medical research standpoint. After extensive investigations and research to verify his claims over a twelve year period, the researcher, Andrew Wakefield, later withdrew his report because he was charged with ethical violations against the children he studied, falsifying the research, and fraud for financial gain (he had links to lawyers who had lawsuits against the MMR vaccine). But the myth lived on, and still does today. However, numerous research studies in the U.S. and several other countries since 1998 have concluded that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. It should also be noted that thimerosal, discussed above, was never an ingredient in the MMR vaccine, which further disproves the idea that it is a cause of autism.
Another common misbelief about vaccinations is that they are not necessary because the diseases they prevent are mostly gone in our society. The truth is, history has shown that when vaccinations decrease below 90% of the population, the illness is much more likely to suddenly reappear. This has happened in the U.S. and around the world in recent years. What people need to remember is that a disease may be mostly gone from our country, but it may be common in other parts of the world. Due to the ease of world-traveling, these diseases are easily brought back to our country. When more people refuse to be vaccinated, they increase the chances that the disease will spread in the U.S. Recent outbreaks of measles in our country is a great example. Over the last ten years, the U.S. has experienced measles outbreaks in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, and 2008. Most of the infected people were not vaccinated by the MMR vaccine, and several of the sources were linked to outbreaks in other countries. The only time it is safe to stop a vaccination is when the disease has disappeared world-wide, not just in our own country. For this reason, we no longer need the smallpox vaccine – it no longer exists.
The concern that vaccines are not as good as natural immunity to a disease is worth discussing as well. Yes, research shows that natural immunity is stronger than immunity gained from vaccines. However, the cost and harm incurred by a disease is not worth the risk of avoiding vaccinations in order to acquire natural immunity. Many diseases that can be prevented by vaccines can lead to other infections, such as pneumonia or blood infections, which can lead to death. For instance, many people survive pertussis infections (whooping cough). In adults, pertussis feels like the common cold. But for infants and young children, pertussis can be fatal. In 2016, there were 15,737 cases of pertussis in the U.S., 7 of them resulted in death, and all but one of the deaths were in children under 1 year of age. And just as immunity from vaccines weakens over time, so does natural immunity. If your child gets infected with pertussis, there is no guarantee that they will not get infected by it again. This is one reason why many vaccines require booster doses after so many months or years – to keep your immunity up.
There are those who avoid vaccinations for their children because they don’t want them to experience the pain involved or risk them experiencing a serious side effect. Although the pain from an injection is difficult to avoid, you must keep in mind the possible alternative outcomes from not receiving the vaccines, such as was discussed previously about pertussis infections. Additionally, one must think about the pain or discomfort their child will feel if they contract one or more of the diseases that could be prevented with a vaccine. Serious side effects of vaccines are anaphylactic reactions – a severe allergic reaction when the person has significant swelling and difficulty breathing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that this type of reaction occurs in one out of one million vaccinations – it is extremely rare and highly unlikely to occur, so vaccines should not be avoided unless the person has actually had this reaction to a vaccine previously.
Many people have valid concerns and questions about vaccinations for children. It is important to remember that vaccinations protect the individual and our community as a whole. When deciding whether or not to have your child vaccinated, it is important to consult the child’s primary care provider. They are prepared to discuss your concerns and address any questions you may have about vaccines.