Vaccination hesitancy or concern about getting your child their shots isn’t new. But it has recently been gaining attention in the media. In February, Robert Kennedy Jr. offered a $100,000 reward for anyone who could turn up a study showing that it is safe to administer vaccines to children and pregnant women. Let me start by saying that there are countless studies and data in support of vaccination safety. So the offer and claim should be given/received over and over and over again.
I mean, COME ON.
However, with politicians using their platform to blast these fallacies and doubts about vaccination, I worry there is a new sense of unease growing among parents. This unease is causing pediatricians to worry about what’s to come in the coming years for families and their safety.
The below chart from the American Journal of Health Behavior and shared by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) depicting the various types of parents and their responses to vaccinations helps frame up who we are. Even with all of the hoopla in the media, studies have found only 16% of parents are fence-sitters or worriers about immunizations. That means there’s a lot of distortion in the voices that are being heard in these conversations, which is causing “health advocates” and others to question if they should continue moving forward with vaccinating their children.
It’s my job as a pediatrician to make sure you hear the other 84%. The following are four of the most common myths that cause parents to worry about vaccinations, and most importantly, why they shouldn’t worry as much with real data to back it up.
Vaccinations Don’t Cause Learning Challenges and Autism
- We don’t know what causes all of autism, but we do know that vaccines do not cause autism. We know that we pick up on communication challenges and concerns for autism spectrum disorders around the same time toddlers receive various vaccines — thus it’s natural that some have pointed to an erroneous connection. Research has shown this idea not to bear truth.
- Truly? A select few vaccine villains literally created fear and hysteria that’s hard for many to forget. But let me be clear — this didn’t come from validated work. The idea that vaccinations cause autism gained international momentum after by Andrew Wakefield who authored a falsified report with a fraudulent claim. Since then he has lost his medical license (he’s not able to practice medicine) and the original report he authored has removed/retracted from publication. The study literally does not even exist anymore because it wasn’t fact-based.
- There is a myth that thimerosal in the MMR shot causes causes autism. The truth? Thimerosal was NEVER an ingredient in the shot. Furthermore, the number of children with autism has continued to grow even after thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines.
- A 2011 report from The Institute of Medicine analyzed over 1,000 studies on adverse side effects from vaccines. They concluded, “the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism.”
No Benefit In Delay of Immunizations Or Delayed Schedules
- There is not a single scientific study in academic medicine showing that it’s safer to space out vaccinations. There isn’t a single study saying a delayed schedule provides any health benefit or reduction in side effects.
- No matter when your child receives their vaccine there is the potential for side effects including rash or fever. Waiting does not decrease risk. Waiting only increases risk by leaving a child unprotected.
- A 2016 AAP survey of pediatricians found that there is a growing number of pediatricians encountering parents who refuse vaccines (87% of pediatricians surveyed in 2013 compared to 75% in 2006). However, in both 2006 and 2013, pediatricians reported that they were able to convince approximately 30% of parents to vaccinate their children when they initially refused, after educational efforts. So partnering with your pediatrician for the facts helps.
Your Choice To Not Vaccinate Affects More Than Your Children
- This is complicated (and controversial to some), but many parent’s believe vaccination decisions are their right and their liberty — to vaccinate their children is their decision. But not everyone agrees. Some believe vaccines are for individuals but also for communities. Vaccines are different from other medical decisions, in that making decisions about medicine or surgery only affect your child, but opting out of vaccinations changes the safety and risk of a population. Vaccinations give your child an army of defense to fight off illness decreasing the chances of them getting an illness. At the same time, it is also decreasing the chances of them becoming ill and sharing an illness with someone else. That’s where having everyone becomes a public health interest.
- In Mississippi, West Virginia, and California there are no longer religious or philosophic exemption from vaccines for children that go to school. Rates of protected children in those states increased after exemptios were disallowed. Since getting rid of religious and philosophic exemptions in California in the past year, the number of children protected from vaccines is increasing in the state of California since this went into affect translating to a safer school systems for California children. Vaccination rates for California kindergartners have never been higher.
Ingredients In Immunizations Do Not Hurt Children
- The CDC and FDA take many steps to make sure vaccines are very safe. Vaccines go through rigorous testing and monitoring – we know more about vaccines than we do food safety and medicine safety!
- There’s a misunderstanding why and how much ingredients are in vaccines.
- Thimerosal – Thimerosal is only found in multi-dose flu vaccinations for older children and adults. Research finds thimerosal does not cause autism or other developmental challenges.
- Formaldehyde – Commonly thought of as a preservative, formaldehyde actually makes vaccines safer. Formaldehyde acts to protect the individual so the virus and particles of that dead flu virus used in the vaccine doesn’t cause the flu. Additionally, the amount of this ingredient found in vaccines is minuscule compared to the amount in the foods you eat.
- Aluminum – Similarly, the amount of aluminum found in vaccines is minuscule compared to amount your child gets when playing in the dirt on Planet Earth or eating some foods.
- Mercury – The amount of mercury in vaccines so small that is is cleared from the body in 1 to 2 weeks. It doesn’t stick around.
No matter where you land in the above chart, never worry about talking to your pediatrician about your concerns – ask them your questions and share what worries you. Pediatricians and family doctors, nurse practitioners and school nurses want to be your partner and support as you raise your child. Also, go get that $100,000! You deserve it.
- AAP – Common Parental Concerns
- CDC – Making the Vaccine Decision
- DOH – WA immunization scorecard – key rates in an easy-to-read format
- DOH – WA school vaccination data
- DOH – WA childhood immunizations from IIS