Five Things I’ve Learned About Vaccines Through 21 Years of Parenting
Apr 24, 2017
I gave birth to five children in the span of nine years. My oldest daughter will soon be 21. My youngest, 12. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about childhood illnesses and infectious diseases. Like most parents, I’ve received plenty of unsolicited advice about how to care for my children and how to keep them healthy. However, when I make health decision for my children, I rely on evidence based research and credible information from reputable sources.
That is why I agreed to partner with Every Child By Two (ECBT) as the editor and primary contributor to this Shot of Prevention blog. Seven years ago, when we started this blog, parents seeking vaccine information on the internet often encountered a web of lies, deception, misinformation and fear mongering. Today, Shot of Prevention is one of many blogs that provide parents with evidence based information to help them make informed immunization decisions for their families.
Today, in recognition of National Infant Immunization Week, I’m sharing five of the most important things I’ve learned about vaccines through my journey as a parent and immunization blogger and it begins with science and it ends with action.
1.) Don’t Let Your Emotions Cloud Your Scientific Judgment.
Visit any online parenting forum and there are fewer topics that can get as heated and emotional as vaccines. The majority of these conversations illicit fear and sympathy, and you’ll often hear parents say that they had to trust their gut or rely on their parental instinct. While we can’t deny our emotions, when it comes to vaccines we must not let emotions cloud our scientific judgment. Instead, we must look to peer-reviewed research and sound science to make educated and informed immunization decisions for our children.
When we do that, we realize that vaccines are some of the most rigorously tested medical interventions available today. And they should be because they are administered to almost every healthy child born in the U.S. The four different surveillance systems we have in the U.S. serve as back-up systems to ensure the ongoing safety of vaccines.
While it’s true that no medical intervention comes without risk, the chances that your child will suffer a serious adverse reaction from a vaccine are documented to be less than one in a million.
When you compare that risk to the risk of injury or death from the diseases that we prevent, vaccines win the benefit/risk ratio hands down. So, brush up on your science and take the time to understand how vaccines work.
Listen to immunization experts address some of the most frequently asked questions about vaccines in these Q&A videos available on our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page here and our YouTube channel here. You can also check out these other resources to learn more:
Immunity and Vaccines Explained; video from PBS, NOVA
How Vaccines Work; video embedded on Immunize For Good website
Vaccines: Calling the Shots; Aired on PBS, NOVA
Ensuring the Safety of Vaccines in the U.S.; PDF document from the CDC
The Journey of Your Child’s Vaccine; Infographic from the CDC
Vaccine Ingredients Frequently Asked Questions; Healthy Children, AAP
Vaccine Education Center Website; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
2.) Appreciate Vaccines For Their Life-Saving Quality.
Thankfully, science is advancing and newer, safer vaccines are enabling us to prevent more needless suffering, hospitalizations & death. However, it’s not uncommon for parents to question why their child may need so many shots.
Admittedly, the method of administering vaccines can be painful at times. I’m beginning to think that the reason parents are concerned about the number of vaccines their children receive is because it’s even painful for parents to watch their child suffer from the discomfort of a needle. And worst yet, there are often multiple shots at each visit during those first two years of life. If vaccines were administered orally, through an adhesive patch, or through a way that didn’t involve pain, I believe parents might not have nearly as much concern.
Unfortunately, one of the hardest things to accept as a parent is watching your child suffer from things you can’t prevent. But the reality is that with vaccines, you are preventing something, even if you may never see that disease which you are preventing. The reality is that some brief discomfort, a few pricks of a needle and even a mild fever, swelling, rash or big crocodile tears are far better than suffering from any one of the 14 different diseases we can now safely prevent through childhood immunizations.
Since we are privileged to live in a country where we have such easy access to vaccines, parents don’t often see just how dangerous vaccine preventable diseases can be. And while we may not have ever seen polio in our lifetime, we must never forget the fear that parents experienced before a vaccine was available. Sadly, most parents in the U.S. probably don’t even realize that polio still exists in other countries and that globally, measles remains one of the top five killers of kids under the age of five.
In fact, our country is currently battling yet another measles outbreak in Minnesota. This outbreak appears to be direct result of anti-vaccine advocates wrongfully convincing members of the Somali community not to vaccinate due to the dispelled myth that vaccines were linked to autism. Now unvaccinated children are being hospitalized with measles and public health professionals are hard at work trying to contain the spread of this extremely infectious disease.
Perhaps if parents were to learn more about the dangers of the diseases that vaccines help to prevent, they may feel less anxious about the shots their child is recommended to receive.
To learn about the 14 different diseases that we can prevent with today’s childhood immunization center, check out our Every Child By Two’s Childhood Vaccine Preventable Disease eBook.
3.) Know An Imposter When You See One.
Unfortunately, when it comes to educating ourselves on immunization issues, parents will come across plenty of websites that try to pass themselves off as credible. Some are so clever that they design their websites to look like government sponsored sites. So beware and know how to spot an imposter!
Health information should come from a trusted, credible source. Government agencies, hospitals, universities, and medical journals typically provide evidence-based information and can be considered trusted sources. Unfortunately, there is nothing stopping people from publishing misleading or incorrect information. For instance, if you’re encouraged to skip vaccines, “detox” your vaccinated child, or buy books, videos, supplements or natural remedies, than you should be questioning the financial motives of the source.
For the record, The National Vaccine Information Center sounds like a federal agency, but is actually an organization that strongly opposes all efforts aimed at vaccinating children. And don’t be fooled by the small controversial group known as the American College of Pediatricians who oppose vaccines. Parents can easily mistake them for the 60,000 members of the American Academy of Pediatrics who base their medical recommendations on sound science.
For tips on how to evaluate health information online, check out the National Institute of Health’s website here. For a more list of reputable sources on the topic of vaccines, visit the Vaccinate Your Family Resource page here.
4) Vaccine Recommendations Are Not the Same as Daycare or School Requirements.
The CDC’s recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule is designed to protect infants and children early in life, when they are most vulnerable and before they are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases. However, what most parents don’t realize is that each state establishes their own school and daycare vaccine mandates. While state legislators do try to align school immunization mandates with CDC vaccine recommendations, there are instances when a vaccine may be recommended by the CDC, but not required in order to attend school or daycare in that state.
As parents make decisions on where to enroll their children in school or daycare, they should familiarize themselves with their state specific vaccination mandates and realize that other children may only be getting the required vaccines. Additionally, when making decisions as to which school or daycare center they want to enroll their child in, parens should refer to the resources below to learn more about the vaccination rates in their local area.
Learn about state-based vaccination rates and disease outbreaks by visiting the AAP’s interactive infographic and the CDC’s Child Vax View. Click here to find out which vaccines are mandated by schools and daycare centers in your state.
5) Understand How Vaccine Refusal Impacts Us All.
I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough; even people who are appropriately vaccinated can be impacted by those who choose not to be. That is because vaccine preventable diseases still exist, and although vaccines are highly effective, no vaccine offers 100% protection in 100% of the people who are vaccinated. Since community immunity relies on a large percentage of the population being immunized, every vaccine refuser is chipping away at our public health.
Community immunity is what we rely on to limit transmission of a disease. However, the herd immunity threshold, or the percentage of people who need to be immunized to provide community immunity, differs for each disease. It depends on the average number of people who will get infected by an infectious person, and how much immunity people will get from a particular vaccine. Since not everyone will have the same immune response, and not every disease has the same level of contagiousness, this becomes a complicated formula that is independently calculated for each disease.
The key to community immunity is that it protects under-immunized individuals. These individuals can include infants too young for certain vaccines, immunocompromised individuals who are medically unable to receive certain vaccines, vaccinated people who just didn’t generate a sufficient immune response from a vaccine, or even the children of parents who willingly refuse vaccines.
In today’s culture, the trend toward natural, chemical free and organic have prompted some parents to refuse vaccines for fear that the vaccines are somehow unnatural or even toxic. The reality is that vaccines aren’t toxic. In fact they are made from many ingredients that occur naturally in our environment. And diseases themselves, while natural, are very dangerous. Some diseases, like meningitis, even cause a toxic response within the body. Yet, when parents exercise their rights to refuse vaccines, they are negatively impacting our public health by reducing the strength of our herd immunity. This is why there has been a movement by parents to advocate for stronger vaccine mandates across the country.
To learn more about how you can speak up for vaccines, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will connect you with your state or local immunization coalition program to learn more.
Babies grow from infants, to toddlers and teens, and your desire to protect them will last long after they’re out of diapers or even out of high school. As parents, you need to serve as an example to your kids by getting your annual flu vaccine and other timely vaccines.
So visit our Vaccinate Your Family website, “like” our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page, follow us @ShotofPrev on Twitter and subscribe to this blog in the upper right hand corner to continue to learn about the value of vaccines at every stage of life. Once you explore the evidence, you will certainly want to continue to protect your family with life-saving vaccines.
This blog post is the first in a series of posts being published as part of the CDC’s National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) Blog-A-Thon. Visit the NIIW blog-a-thon page throughout the week to read posts that discuss the critical role vaccines play in protecting children, families, and communities against vaccine-preventable diseases from ACOG, Child Care Aware of America, PēdsGeek M.D., and Verywell. You can also follow the NIIW conversation on social media using the hashtag #ivax2protect.
Note: This content originally appeared in Vaccinate Your Family’s Immunization Alerts e-newsletter, sent March 31, 2021. You can sign up for future alerts on our website. April 9, 2021: An update was made to...
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