Pediatrician: With the school year underway, let’s talk about vaccination (column)
September 15, 2017
Editor's note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.
Eagle County students may be back in school, but there's still plenty parents can do to make sure they are healthy and ready to learn throughout the year. Being vaccinated helps children stay well, providing an extra level of protection against very serious diseases. They're also somewhat of a controversial topic.
As a practicing pediatrician and a pediatric researcher, I'd like to offer a few thoughts that may help dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about vaccines.
• "Vaccines aren't safe." — Nothing in medicine is 100 percent safe. But, vaccines are one of the more well studied areas of medical research. Patients are usually surprised to learn that the safety of vaccines has been much more thoroughly studied than the safety of giving ibuprofen for fever or amoxicillin for an ear infection. Because vaccines are recommended for all children in the United States, their safety is constantly being evaluated.
• "Children only need to be vaccinated so they can go to school." —The Colorado Board of Health outlines specific vaccination requirements for schools in the state. Many infectious diseases — such as chicken pox, the flu and measles — can be easily spread in school settings. However, while it's critically important for children to be vaccinated by the time they start school, waiting until then to do so is a missed opportunity.
Why? Younger children, especially infants, are more susceptible to infectious diseases. Many diseases, such as pertussis and bacterial meningitis, are more common and serious for infants. That's why doctors want parents to follow vaccination schedules so that children are protected when they're at greatest risk.
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Parents often ask me if their children must receive the recommended vaccines for their age or if they can simply receive the vaccines required for school. The terms "recommended" versus "required" are confusing. Certain recommended vaccinations are also required for children to attend school because the diseases they protect against may be more common or pose a greater risk in that environment. Other vaccines may only be recommended — but not required to attend school — because the diseases they protect against are rare or less contagious in schools. My response is that children should get all recommended vaccines, including the ones that are not required for school.
• "There's no benefit to being vaccinated." — Side effects are possible from vaccinations, including serious allergic reactions. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, serious allergic reactions happen in fewer than 1 in 1 million vaccine doses.
The benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. The diseases they prevent are serious and can be life-threatening. Even though the rates of these diseases have gone down dramatically because of vaccination, they're still present in our communities. Remember the news coverage of the measles outbreak at Disneyland? Communities that are vaccinated help to prevent these types of disease outbreaks.
• "Vaccines cause autism." —Over the past decade, the medical community has completed more than a dozen studies in many different countries related to vaccines and the risk of autism. All of them came to the same conclusion: There is no connection between autism and vaccines.
• "Children don't have to get a flu shot." —Beginning at 6 months of age, children should receive the flu shot every year. The first time children get a flu shot, their doctor will recommend two doses of the vaccine. That's because young children have not built up enough immunity to protect against the flu virus.
Getting a flu shot each year is important for many reasons. The shot not only helps prevent the virus, it also provides greater protection against serious complications from the flu, such as hospitalization and pneumonia.
My advice is that parents who are hesitant about immunizing should bring up their concerns with their pediatrician or family physician. Immunizing protects children and the community around them — their classmates, their grandparents, pregnant women and others who may be vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.
On the other side, doctors need to be clearer in communicating our message: Vaccines are safe and beneficial, and the benefits strongly outweigh the risks.
For the latest information on vaccination research, visit the Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Research website at kpco-ihr.org.
Dr. Matthew F. Daley is a Kaiser Permanente pediatric researcher and pediatrician. He works for one of the state's largest physician groups — the Colorado Permanente Medical Group — serving more than 680,000 members of Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.