Saturday, August 02, 2008

Myths about childhood vaccines

Childhood vaccines protect children from a range of serious diseases. Yet you may wonder about the benefits and risks of childhood vaccines. Consider common myths about childhood vaccines в and the facts behind the myths.

  • Vaccines aren't necessary
  • Vaccine side effects are dangerous
  • Vaccines cause autism
  • Vaccines are given too early
  • It's OK to skip certain vaccines if you have safety concerns
Childhood vaccines offer protection from a variety of serious or potentially fatal diseases, including diphtheria, measles, meningitis, polio, tetanus and whooping cough. If these diseases seem uncommon в or even unheard of в it simply means that vaccines are doing their job. If immunization rates drop, vaccine-preventable diseases may once again become common threats.

Any vaccine can cause side effects. Usually, these side effects are minor в low-grade fever, and soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. Some vaccines cause temporary headache, dizziness, fatigue or loss of appetite. Rarely, a child may experience a severe allergic reaction or a neurological side effect, such as a seizure. Although these rare side effects are a concern, vaccines are much safer than the diseases they prevent.

Of course, vaccines aren't given to children who have known allergies to specific vaccine components. Likewise, if your child develops a life-threatening reaction to a particular vaccine, further doses of that vaccine won't be given.

Despite much controversy on the topic, researchers haven't found a clear connection between autism and childhood vaccines. Although signs of autism may appear at about the same time children receive certain vaccines в such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine в this appears to be simply a coincidence.

Childhood vaccines offer protection from a variety of serious or potentially fatal diseases. Early vaccination в sometimes beginning shortly after birth в is essential because these diseases are most likely to occur when a child is very young and the risk of complications is greatest. If you postpone vaccines until a child is older, it may be too late.

In general, skipping vaccines isn't a good idea. This can leave your child vulnerable to potentially serious diseases that could otherwise be avoided. And consider this: For some children в including those who can't receive certain vaccines for medical reasons or those who don't seem to respond to certain vaccines в the only protection from vaccine-preventable diseases is the immunity of the people around them.

If you have reservations about particular vaccines, discuss your concerns with your child's doctor. If your child falls behind the standard vaccines schedule, catch-up vaccinations are typically available. It usually isn't necessary to repeat earlier doses of a particular vaccine.