By Alexander M. Hamling / For The Herald
These days, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the benefits of getting your child vaccinated, how vaccines really work, their safety and more.
Unfortunately, this confusion is moving our children’s health care backward; although vaccination rates are still high, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports routine child immunizations have dropped from 95 percent to 93 percent since 2019. This is especially alarming when you look at the recent outbreaks of preventable diseases, like the measles outbreaks in Ohio and Minnesota last year and the polio outbreak in New York.
As a pediatrician at Pacific Medical Centers, it’s important to me to provide accurate and truthful information to families, whether it’s established research, reviewing new studies from trusted sources with my patients, or simply listening to concerns and answering their questions. In recent years I’ve heard some recurring questions, as well as myths borne from an environment where scientific data, public health urgency and information overload all converge.
What are some of the biggest myths?
Myth: “Natural immunity is better than vaccination.”
Fact: One of the most common misconceptions surrounding vaccination is that acquiring a disease naturally may be “better” for the child than acquiring immunity through vaccination. The truth is that vaccines help us in multiple ways versus natural immunity. They decrease the spread to others, and they lessen the severity of diseases they are vaccinating against. They also help prevent potential ramifications and longer-lasting effects that children may suffer from acquiring a disease naturally. For instance, if a child catches polio naturally, they are at risk of paralysis; this could be avoided with the polio vaccine, which carries no such side effect.
Myth: “I can get my child vaccinated when they’re older.”
Fact: It is not uncommon to encounter families who lack a sense of urgency for vaccination and feel that they can just get these vaccines later. However, this is often not the case. There are some vaccines that we don’t offer to older children, such as Rotavirus, or for which they may not complete the recommended vaccine series before turning age two.
In addition to age restrictions for certain vaccines, the body’s natural immunity depends upon seeing and recognizing similar proteins repeatedly. This is why we generally do a series of vaccines spaced out over weeks to months. This allows the body to build immunity over time and develop long-term protection. This is another reason why it is better to get started early on vaccinations to ensure they have time to develop fully within the body. If a child misses a dose, it’s best to talk with their physician and discuss when the next best time is to get the vaccine.
Myth: “Vaccines are unsafe or not properly researched.”
Fact: It’s good to have a conversation surrounding safety, but we know that vaccines go through a multi-stage process of testing to ensure they will not be harmful. These tests begin with a small number of patients, then researchers slowly and steadily increase the number of patients with each subsequent series of trials. By the time vaccines are released to the public, they have been tested for safety, side effects, efficacy (effectiveness), and if they negatively interact with other current vaccines.
If you are unsure about the safety of a vaccine or which ones are recommended for your child, I recommend the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, both respected resources for guidance on the types or brands of vaccines and the diseases that they help protect against.
Myth: “Vaccine side-effects are often severe and dangerous for our children.”
The most common side effects of vaccines include pain, redness or mild swelling at the injection site and slight to mild fever. While there is a small chance for more severe reactions, it is very rare to suffer any long-term damage because of a vaccination.
Nevertheless, no one — especially a child — enjoys getting a shot. To help prepare your children for the potential side effects of a vaccine, I recommend talking to them directly about the importance of vaccines, and to help them understand that vaccination is not a punishment. Speaking of vaccination in positive terms, such as, “This is going to make you stronger,” or “This is going to help keep you healthy,” can increase morale surrounding the procedure. Yes, you can admit to them that there may be a little pain, but that can be managed with ice to the area or even a small arm or leg massage.
Myth: “I can’t afford to vaccinate my child.”
Fact: Here in Washington, the vaccine components themselves are covered under the Childhood Vaccine program. There may be a small fee for the administration of vaccines, however, most families who do not have insurance may qualify for state Medicaid programs, including Apple Health, that will help cover the cost of these vaccines.
Overall, it is important to remember that vaccines are an important piece of the puzzle in your child’s health and well-being. If you are ever unsure about a vaccine, consult your child’s primary care physician to ensure you have the most accurate information. In my role at Pacific Medical Centers, I am always happy to address any questions or concerns a parent or patient might have, and I know my peers in health care feel the same way.
Dr. Alexander M. Hamling is a fellow with the American Academy of Pediatrics and a peditricians with Pacific Medical Centers in Bothell.
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