Are Childhood Vaccines Safe?

A Henry Ford Health doctor talks about why vaccines are important and how they work.

Let’s face it: going to the pediatrician for their “shots” is never on a kid’s top 10 list of things to do. Plus, with so many vaccines available these days, kids aren’t the only ones with vaccine anxiety. While the COVID-19 pandemic has given some parents extra motivation to vaccinate their children for all childhood diseases, others have questions about how vaccines work and what happens if their child doesn’t get them.

In a blog post on the Henry Ford Health website pediatrician Jordan Kridler, M.D., points out the risks of skipping routine childhood vaccinations: “Recent measles and polio outbreaks in the United States are due to low vaccination rates,” says Dr. Kridler. “Since many of these diseases are no longer prevalent, some parents aren’t familiar with them. As a result, some parents think the risk of vaccination outweighs the risk of the actual diseases.”

For example, in the case of polio, the effects of the disease can be devastating, resulting in paralysis and even death. Complications from measles and mumps can also cause life-threatening illnesses.

An article from the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to view vaccines as a vital tool in not only their child’s health but for public health.  “Vaccines are essential for the health of our whole society, including children and adolescents,” says Sean O’Leary, M.D., chair of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases. “We all have a responsibility to ensure everyone can access vaccinations, both for their individual health as well as to prevent the spread of illnesses.”

How do vaccines work?

Different vaccines work in different ways. For example, an inactivated vaccine uses an inactivated or “dead” virus that the body will recognize as foreign, causing it to create an immune response. One example of this would be the flu shot.

Live-attenuated vaccines employ live but weak viruses that won’t cause infection but will cause protective immunity. The chickenpox vaccine and the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccines are two examples of live-attenuated vaccines.

One type of vaccine that has received a lot of attention recently is the mRNA vaccine. This type of vaccine works by teaching the body to learn the genetic code of a virus, such as a protein. In turn, the body will recognize the protein as foreign, creating antibodies to fight the virus. Two examples of this are the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine.

Separating childhood vaccine facts from fiction

Parents are faced with a lot of conflicting information regarding vaccines. It helps to understand the common myths and actual facts so that you can make an informed decision.

For example, some people mistakenly believe that a flu vaccine will give their child the flu, when in fact, a flu vaccine is “inactivated” (see above) and cannot infect them.

Another common myth about vaccines is that they can cause autism, a belief that has been thoroughly debunked via several studies in the larger medical community, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC.

Parents may also be concerned about the number and frequency of vaccines given to children, especially in the early months and years of their lives. However, you should know that childhood vaccine schedules are thoroughly researched. According to a policy statement on the American Academy of Pediatrics website, “Vaccines on the immunization schedule are specially formulated to be given at certain points in children’s development for their peak effectiveness and safety.”

Vaccines offer protection from preventable childhood diseases and can offer your children a healthier future. Of course, if you have any questions about your child’s specific needs, be sure to speak with a trusted pediatrician.

Learn more about Henry Ford Health. Visit henryford.com.

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