By Dr. Gretchen LaSalle
Doctors are not immune to the anxieties and fears of newbie parents. Yes, we’ve gone through 4 years of medical school and pediatrics rotations (and some of us have had further training in family medicine or pediatrics residencies) and we’ve learned all of the appropriate developmental milestones and all of the common concerns of early childhood. But that doesn’t necessarily protect us from worry, sometimes irrational, about why they sleep so much or why they are jaundiced or why they aren’t latching well or why their poop is that color. I could go on. So when it comes to vaccinating our tiny precious peanuts, we can begin to question all the pokes and exposing their immune systems to so many viral and bacterial proteins all at once. And we, too, get those anti-vaccine feeds on our Facebook pages and doubt has this insidious way of working itself into one’s subconscious. Anti-vaccine assertions play on our fears as well. After all, none of us would ever want to do anything to harm our little ones. But those doubts and fears are unfounded, and I am here to tell you why! Let’s look at a few of these vaccine worries and break them down.
Worry #1 – That is so many pokes all at one time. I don’t want them to hurt.
- No one wants their child to hurt. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could invent a pain-free vaccine? Let’s get to work on that drug companies! But we have to put this in perspective. The pain of a shot is temporary (usually just a few seconds) but the consequences of vaccine-preventable disease can be life-long or even life-threatening. And babies do not have long term memory. Thank goodness. If they did, they may have a lot more to hold against us when they get older. “Mom, remember that time when you set me on the bed and I rolled off and that time when you cut my nails too short and that time you gave me mashed up peas and I vomited.” Also, we do things for our kids all the time that they don’t necessarily like (like strapping them into car seats, making them wear helmets when they ride their bikes, and making them eat their vegetables) but we do it because we know it is what is best for them. It’s no different for vaccines. And, these days, many of our vaccines come in combination, meaning multiple vaccines in only one poke. So, the actual number of pokes is minimized. Honestly, I think this worry is a bigger deal for the parent than it is for the child. Come on Mom and Dad. You can do this! Get those vaccines and know that you are doing what’s best to keep your little one healthy and safe.
Worry #2 – Aren’t we going to overwhelm their immune system by exposing them to so many proteins all at once?
- Let’s look at this realistically. Kids are exposed to so many more proteins on a daily basis (what with sticking their hands in their mouths 24/7, and crawling around on the floor, and sharing germs with other little germ factories at daycare) than they are ever exposed to in a series of vaccines. Exposure to these proteins is good. This is what helps build a stronger immune system. And, thanks to advances in vaccine science, the load on their immune system is even smaller than when we were kids! The 14 vaccines given today contain fewer than 200 viral and bacterial proteins or polysaccharides, compared to more than 3000 of these components in the 7 vaccines that were given in 1980. We parents are more likely to have received exposure to those 3000 proteins and we turned out just fine, thank you very much! So, please, have no qualms about their immune health. Know that, in vaccinating, you are only helping their immune system to be stronger!
Worry #3 – I’ve heard that vaccines aren’t well tested or monitored. I don’t want to give my child something that isn’t safe.
- In reality, vaccines are some of the most well regulated interventions that we have in modern medicine. Vaccines have to undergo 10-15 years of study before being brought to market. They are tested and retested. There is oversight by both public and private organizations that help ensure that what is being given to our population is both safe and effective. And after they are released for use, the monitoring doesn’t stop. The manufacturers often continue observation and testing and organizations like the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) constantly monitor for any trends that might suggest a significant adverse event related to a vaccine. And, if they identify one, the vaccine is pulled from use and a safer alternative is developed. We a very robust system of checks and balances when it comes to vaccines and we should feel confident putting our faith in it.
Parenthood comes with a lifetime supply of worry and we medical parents share that worry with you. We all, medical and non-medical parents alike, need periodic reassurances that we are making the right decisions for our children. We trust our doctors to steer us in the right direction regarding issues of breastfeeding and treating diaper rash and how to get our child to sleep through the night. We can trust their expertise in the area of vaccines as well. Our doctors only want what is best for us, for our children, and for our community and we should have total confidence that vaccinating our children and ourselves is the best choice we can make to keep us all healthy and safe!
Dr. Gretchen LaSalle is a board certified Family Physician practicing in Spokane, Washington. She has a passion for public health and seeks to be a voice of truth and reason when it comes to doubts about vaccines. You can follow her @GretchenLaSalle and on her blog at AdventuresofDoctorMom.com.