The Vaccination Decision

The decision to vaccinate a child can be stressful and difficult.  For some parents this is an easy decision and for other it is complex and fear-provoking. Whether you decide yes or no there are some facts a parent needs to know.

Vaccines prepare children to fight off an infection. Vaccines activate white blood cells to make antibodies. These antibodies are disease-specific and fight off an infection. Vaccinating your child allows your child to make antibodies ahead of time and prepares your child to produce more antibodies as soon as an infection or exposure occurs. Vaccines allow your body to have a standing army ready and waiting to fight off an attack by a bacterial or viral invader. If your child is not vaccinated a volunteer army would need to be recruited at the time of an infection. This takes time and your child may become seriously ill waiting for white blood cells to recognize the infection and produce antibodies.

Vaccines are composed of either live attenuated viruses or dead viruses. Bacterial vaccines often are composed of part of the bacteria which allows the body to be tricked into thinking it is under assault. Booster doses are needed for most vaccines and some vaccines cannot be given until your child reaches a certain age. Some strains of viruses like influenza mutate from year to year and that is why a new vaccine is needed every year.

Vaccines are quite safe. Almost all reactions to immunizations are mild and short lived. Common side effects include redness, mild localized pain or swelling, irritability and a low grade fever.  Most of the often heard risks of vaccines are based on misinformation or bad science and are not fact-based. Vaccines do not cause autism, seizures, multiple sclerosis or brain damage. There is about a 1 in one million chance of a serious reaction from a vaccine. The real risks to your child come from not being immunized.

The most common reasons for not immunizing a child include fear of adverse reactions, a lack of awareness that these viral and bacterial infections still are common, and philosophical or religious reasons. If over 90% of children in a community are immunized the risk of a child being exposed to an infection is low enough that the unvaccinated children are at a lower risk for contracting an illness. This type of immunity is called herd immunity and the higher the number of unvaccinated children the lower the herd immunity.

When a doctor or medical professional takes the time to communicate with a parent who questions the need for an immunization a relationship can be fostered and concerns can be discussed and understood. Listening is the first step before the sharing of information and science.  The next step is to discuss the science and how it affects the child who needs the immunization. This allows an immunization schedule to be built without using guilt or fear and supports long term compliance and cooperation.

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