When it comes to vaccinations, you may find yourself confused by the mixed messages in the media. For example, one minute you will see a story claiming the all available vaccinations are vital, and the next you will spot a fearmongering claim that vaccinations often cause life-ruining side effects. Here are the key facts you should know about vaccinations, stripped of hyperbole and paranoia.
1. Vaccinations for rare diseases are still necessary
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cautions that you shouldn’t assume that you don’t need vaccinations for rare diseases like diphtheria and polio. The very reason that they are rare is because of vaccinations, and—because these diseases do still exist—there is a strong possibility that there would be a resurgence in their frequency (and eventually the appearance of outbreaks) if people ceased accepting the relevant vaccinations. A concrete case of this occurred in Japan when they stopped giving a whooping cough vaccination and subsequently suffered a major epidemic.
2. Vaccinations mostly cause milk side effects
Like all medications, vaccinations can cause side effects. However, most of these side effects are mild, causing symptoms like an achy arm or a passing fever. There are too many vaccinations to list all relevant side effects here (though an exhaustive list is supplied on the CDC’s page about vaccinations), but the take-home message is that the majority are not dangerous. If your children have recently been vaccinated, keep a close eye on them in case a high fever develops.
3. There are risks to vaccinating and avoiding vaccinations
Vaccinations do sometimes cause life-threatening side effects, and these complications can even be fatal in extremely rare cases. However, those who choose not to accept vaccinations for themselves or their children also take on the risk of contracting a fatal disease and spreading it to other vulnerable individuals (such as older people, those with comprised immune systems, and other children). Weigh these risks carefully when making your decision.
4. Some American children can get free vaccinations
In the US, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program offers vaccinations for children who might not have adequate financial support. There is a federally funded initiative that may be accessible through your family doctor. If not, you can get in touch with a public health clinic, or a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) to get free vaccinations for qualified children
5. There is no compelling evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism
The myth that the MMR vaccination (which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella) causes autism is rooted in the work of a doctor (Andrew Wakefield) who has now been struck off the medical register and entirely discredited. There have been many studies investigating a potential relationship between MMR and autism during the last decade, and no link has been established. With the latest 2015 study investigating over 95,000 children, you can safely consider this popular rumor debunked—children who receive the MMR vaccine are no more likely to develop autism than their unvaccinated peers.
6. Not all vaccinations offer lifelong protection
Don’t simply assume that all of your previous vaccinations will cover you for the rest of your life. For example, while the MMR vaccine does provide lifelong protection from measles, mumps, and rubella, other vaccinations—such as those that guard against diphtheria and tetanus—must be supported by booster vaccinations. Meanwhile, the influenza vaccination changes every year to reflect predictions about the dominant strain of flu arriving in the winter months, so it is smart to accept this shot on a yearly basis (especially if you suffer from asthma or reduced immune system function).
7. There is little reason to worry about “vaccine overload”
You may have heard that if children are given a range of different vaccinations within the same short time period then they might suffer immune system damage or their immune systems might struggle to respond appropriately to the vaccines. However, studies do not support the existence of problematic “vaccine overload” and doctors will often note that the average infant regularly encounters way more triggers for antibody production in everyday life than they do when their receive vaccinations.
8. Vaccination requirements vary by state
If you are currently undecided about whether to vaccinate your child, you should talk to your doctor about state regulations. While most states do have requirements, all offer exemptions for children who are allergic to vaccine components or cannot receive them for some other medically sound reason. Meanwhile, 48 states will allow exemptions based on religion, and 20 allow parents to make the decision based on “philosophical or personal beliefs.” However, there is increasing interest in making it more difficult for parents to refuse vaccinations for their children, emphasizing the importance of things like vaccination education programs before decisions are made.
9. Some vaccinations are particularly important during pregnancy
Firstly, pregnant women are more likely to develop a serious case of the flu, so an annual flu vaccination is sensible. In addition, the CDC advises that pregnant woman should strongly consider receiving the Pertussis (i.e. whooping cough) vaccine after 20 weeks of pregnancy (or directly after delivery), and should receive a booster every decade. Pertussis is highly dangerous to young children and having a vaccinated mother greatly increase the chances of avoiding infection. However, pregnant women should not receive live vaccines due to the small risk of becoming infected by the live vaccine (which may result in birth defects).
10. The CDC will answer your general questions
There are ample and detailed web resources dealing with almost every concern you might have about vaccinations. However, if you’re struggling to find the answer to a particular question, you can reach the CDC’s Contact Center at 1-800-232-4636.