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To immunize or not to immunize? Every parent’s question.

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Vaccinations have been a hot button topic for some time, but with school starting in a few weeks, many uncertain parents are revisiting the question: Should I immunize my child?

While the internet is a wonderful way to spread information, it is not always the best source of accurate information, especially in the area of vaccines. Blogs, disreputable sources and anecdotal evidence abound in the area of immunizations.

As a pediatrician, I consider it my duty to share the most accurate medical information I can in order to keep your child safe and put your mind at ease. Because there is so much out there about vaccines, I wanted to talk to the highest-level expert I knew and get to the bottom of some of your burning questions. This took me to Dr. Candice Robinson at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Dr. Robinson is the workgroup lead for the child/adolescent immunization schedule for the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices group at the CDC. She is also a pediatrician. We recently had a great conversation on my podcast. We talked about everything from the MMR vaccine and autism to the HPV vaccine to what is actually in vaccines. I highly encourage you to listen to the full conversation here:

Here are a few of the key questions I asked Dr. Robinson. Some of her answers may surprise you.

M: Many parents I see and hear from are afraid of giving their children immunizations. Can you discuss why vaccines are important?

R: The recommended immunization schedule protects children from 14 different serious diseases before their second birthday. While some vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer common in this country because of vaccines, some vaccine-preventable diseases like pertussis, or whooping cough, and chicken pox remain common in the United States. 

M: Many parents want to wait and start vaccinations when their children are in kindergarten because they fear vaccines will mess with their immune system. Is it OK to wait and vaccinate your children later?

R: Before entering school, young kids can be exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases from parents or other adults, their siblings, on a plane, at a childcare center or even at the grocery store, and children under five are especially susceptible to diseases because their immune systems haven’t built up their defenses to fight the infection, so you don’t want to wait to protect your children and risk getting the diseases when they need protection now, before they get into school. 

M: Tell me about the MMR vaccine and the misinformation that’s out there about it.

R: There was a report written some years ago by a physician regarding the MMR vaccine [linking it to autism], but multiple studies have been done since the publication of that report and multiple studies have shown that there’s no association between vaccines and autism.

M: I also hear parents express concern about additives in vaccines, such as thimerosal. Can you talk about what is added to childhood immunizations?

R: Thimerosal is actually not currently in any of the routinely recommended childhood vaccines. The one exception to that is some multidose vials of the influenza vaccine, but the rest of the childhood vaccines no longer contain thimerosal. Thimerosal was removed from vaccines in the early 2000s out of an abundance of caution. There had been no studies to indicate that thimerosal was harmful to children.

Vaccines contain weakened or killed versions of the germs that cause the vaccine-preventable diseases, and as a result, the kids get the protection against these diseases without risking the complications that they could have by actually obtaining the disease itself.

M: Tell me about the HPV vaccine. Why should kids get it, even when they are not sexually active? 

R: HPV can cause six types of cancers in men and women…Every year over 33,000 men and women are diagnosed with one of these cancers and thanks to the HPV, we can now prevent over 90 percent of these cancers from ever developing. 

You may know that your child is not sexually active, but their future partner could have been and so giving them their HPV vaccine really protects them from obtaining the HPV virus at any time in the future. 

Again, I encourage you to listen to my full conversation with Dr. Robinson on my podcast here. She is full of good information, founded in sound, peer-reviewed studies and because she works at the CDC, she is at the cutting edge of all vaccine research.

I know choosing to immunize your child can feel scary or confusing. There are a lot of opinions out there, but there are also facts, clear research, and good studies to keep you grounded and give you the best information. To learn more, visit some of the following resources recommended by Dr. Robinson:

The American Academy of Pediatrics

The American Academy of Family Physicians 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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