Debunking vaccination myths as students head back to school
Doctors say children should get all recommended vaccinations before the first day of school
This content is sponsored by Kaiser Permanente
Written By Lauren Glendenning
As the school year approaches and parents think about whether to vaccinate their children, the science and medical communities have one resounding message: choose to vaccinate.
“Vaccines are not considered to be dangerous. The American Academy of pediatrics recommends children be immunized against 16 diseases,” said Dr. Patricia Dietzgen, Family Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Frisco Medical Offices.
While many vaccine-preventable diseases are rare in the United States, they can be brought into the country and put unvaccinated children at risk, according to the CDC.
“It’s a small world; disease travels very easily,” Dietzgen said. “If people stop vaccinating, serious disease will rapidly return, putting many people at unnecessary risk. Due to a concerted effort, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, we have been able to lessen the frequency and severity of life threatening illness.”
When parents have access to accurate online clinical information about vaccines and to vaccine experts, their attitudes improve about vaccinating their children, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published in May in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“It is certainly understandable that some parents have concerns about vaccinating their children because there is a lot of misinformation out there, especially on social media platforms. It is clear there is a need to address parents’ concerns in a convenient, user-friendly forum that they trust,” said Matthew F. Daley, MD, senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research.
The study team created a website that presented easy-to-understand information on the risks and benefits of vaccination, recommended vaccination schedules, vaccine ingredients and vaccine laws. A social media component also included an expert-moderated blog, discussion forum, chat room and an “Ask a Question” portal where parents could ask experts about vaccines.
Parents who were hesitant about vaccinating their children had a significant reduction in concerns after access to these tools.
Risks are minor
A small study once suggested that the MMR vaccine — used to protect children against measles, mumps and rubella — could lead to autism, but Dietzgen noted that it was later retracted by its author.
There also are no scientific studies that show children can’t tolerate vaccines at such early ages. A Kaiser Permanente study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year reported that infants who receive multiple vaccines as part of the routine vaccination schedule are unlikely to be more susceptible to other infections not targeted by those vaccines in the two years following vaccination.
Dr. Shannon Garton, Family Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Edwards Medical Offices, said some of the common reasons parents don’t want to vaccinate their children is that the diseases are rare in this country, but she said that argument “simply testifies to the fact that vaccines are effective.”
Vaccines can cause minor side effects such as redness and swelling where the shot was given, but often go away in a few days, according to the CDC.
“Leaving a child unimmunized makes them more vulnerable to catching serious illness,” Dietzgen said. “We forget that not that long ago, children died from whooping cough, measles, meningitis, or were left with serious crippling effects. These are now rare thanks to immunizations, but they have not been eradicated.”
Before a vaccine is approved by the FDA, “results of studies on safety and effectiveness of the vaccine are evaluated by highly trained FDA scientists and doctors,” according to the CDC’s website. “FDA also inspects the sites where vaccines are made to make sure they follow strict manufacturing guidelines.”
Sticking to a plan
Vaccination scheduling is carefully planned to coincide with the time in which the body will mount an immune response to the vaccine, as well as the earliest possible time the vaccine can safely protect children from diseases, Dietzgen said.
“We build immunity in phases,” she said.
As children get older, there may be a wider window of when a vaccination is due, but Garton recommends getting them done in the fall when flu shots are also available.
In addition to vaccinating, Dietzgen said children should try to stay healthy during the school year by washing their hands frequently and practicing good hygiene. If a child shows symptoms of illness, parents should keep them home from school to protect other children, Garton said.
“We are all in this together, so give the gift of health and do not send your sick child to school,” she said.
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