Month 2 Worry: Are All These Vaccines Safe for My Child?

The most common medical concern for parents of babies this age.

Your newborn is vulnerable and helpless in many ways, and your first two months together are exhausting, thrilling, and fleeting.

And if you’re considering vaccinations, the prize at the end of the first two months are infant shots—and plenty of them. Many parents concernedly ask me, “Are the number of vaccines my baby receives at this visit or in the following two years too many?”

What’s the Issue?

A typical two-month-old receives about four injections—which protect against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, hepatitis B, haemophilus type b (hib), and pneumococcus—and about a dozen more by the time she reaches age two. But questions arise in parent circles and on the Internet as to whether these vaccines are linked to autism, multiple sclerosis, the increased incidence of food allergy, or multiple other health concerns.

Parents ask, “How do we process all of this information? Should we consent to all of these shots for our kids? Are immunizations still necessary?” Some parents choose not to vaccinate; some parents choose to vaccinate. It’s an important and personal choice for any family, so before making a decision in either direction, I advise my patients to learn as much as they can about the issue so they make an informed decision they feel truly comfortable with.

Consider the Numbers

In 1952, 21,000 cases of paralytic polio were reported in the United States. Virtually every family was affected by this epidemic. Paralysis of the breathing muscles of infants required machines, or “iron lungs,” to breathe for them. Mainly because of vaccine efforts, the last case of paralytic polio was reported in the US in 1979.

In the 1980s, haemophilus type b was every pediatrician’s nightmare. Meningitis, permanent hearing loss, and a throat infection so severe it would close off the airway (epiglottitis) of children were not uncommon consequences of this infection. One hundred of every 100,000 children were affected, and five percent of these cases were fatal. The hib vaccine was introduced in 1988, and now pediatricians in training typically don’t see a single haemophilus type b infection during their residencies.

Even though the list of vaccine successes goes on, giving shots to your baby may seem unnatural and traumatic. And anti-vaccine groups are quite vocal:

  • “The MMR causes autism.” (Disproven)
  • “Thimerosal [the infamous mercury preservative used in vaccines prior to 2000] causes autism.” (It doesn’t)
  • “Vaccines are part of our ‘overly clean’ society and have lead to more food allergy.” (Still to be proven, but in the meantime, would you rather have polio?)

The bottom line is that vaccines are one of the most significant medical advancements of the past century and remain a critical component of basic well child care.

What Parents Can Do

Talk to your doctor about your concerns. Standard consent for vaccines includes a discussion in the office and a chance to read paperwork from the Centers for Disease Control (a vaccine information sheet, or VIS). Ask questions and make sure you understand the answers you’re given. Vaccinating may be scary but could well be a decision that saves your baby’s life.

What the Docs May Do

Your pediatrician will spend time at your visits discussing the pros and cons of vaccines. This is called informed consent. There are risks to all medical decisions (e.g., is the low risk of Tylenol dosing worth taking to reduce my child’s pain?). When the risks of vaccines are measured by most people, they are far outweighed by the benefits of vaccinating and preventing serious disease.

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