Why vaccinating your child matters

Providing our children with the necessary vaccines to live a healthy, safe life should be routine practice in our communities. However, there are a minority of parents and a few self-proclaimed experts who argue that there is danger in immunization. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, these adults continue to link vaccines to a host of diseases and disorders - including autism - and jeopardize the health and future of children.

In recent years, serious outbreaks of measles and whooping cough have been reported. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 118 new cases of measles were reported in the first 19 weeks of 2011; of those, 105 cases - or 89 percent - were unvaccinated patients. In 2010, California reported 9,000 cases of whooping cough; prior to that, the last peak outbreak was in 2005, with nearly 3,200 cases. 

At Providence, we're invested in the health of your child, and the health of our communities. Here, Dr. James MacKay, M.D., medical director of Providence Health Plans' Quality Medical Management department, answers some common questions about vaccination. We encourage you to talk to your child's health care provider for more information.

What's more dangerous - vaccinating or not vaccinating?

Not vaccinating your children leaves them vulnerable to disease. As a parent, your responsibility is to protect your children. Vaccination is part of that protection, as are breastfeeding and proper nutrition. The vast majority of pediatricians and child health experts believe that it is dangerous to leave your child unprotected. The minor side effects from vaccines are minimal compared to the serious and sometimes deadly effects of an infectious disease.

Is it enough that the people who interact with my child are vaccinated?

No. Think of all the people with whom you come into contact daily - at the grocery store, at work, at the gas station or the dry cleaner's. Adults can still carry disease without knowing it, and can unwittingly pass it on to a child. Even if all the adults and older children surrounding your child are vaccinated, they are coming into contact with people who may not be. We strongly suggest that you not risk a child's health by relying on others who may or may not be up to date on their own vaccinations.

Are there long-term effects of not vaccinating my child?

The lack of protection will last the lifetime of the individual who has no immunization. Childhood diseases acquired in adulthood can be especially serious and deadly.

It's my choice to vaccinate my child. Why should it matter if it doesn't affect anyone else?

Not true - your decision not to vaccinate your child does have repercussions outside your immediate environment. As more adults choose not to vaccinate their children, the risk for spreading diseases increases. If your child's school has several children who are unvaccinated, the risk of contracting a disease, such as whooping cough, increases. Your unvaccinated child also puts others at risk - those, for example, who are too sick or weak to receive vaccinations, such as infants, the elderly or people with life-threatening conditions, such as leukemia. We can't know who among us is or is not vaccinated; if you choose not to vaccinate, you are putting your child and others at risk.

What are the side effects of vaccines?

If experienced at all, side effects are usually minor. Most often, a child will experience redness and swelling at the injection site. Some children also may experience a low-grade fever - a sign that their body is reacting correctly to the vaccine. Vaccines are rigorously tested before they are released to the public. The safety of vaccines is measured by the number of adverse events reported after they are administered. Vaccine clinical trials happen in three phases, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration monitors all test phases, as well as the release to the public, once a vaccine has been approved.

Could my child still get sick, even after she's vaccinated?

Vaccines are extremely effective and are almost a guarantee against getting a serious illness. Children who have been vaccinated rarely contract the infectious disease, but if they do, the illness will be far milder - and certainly not life-threatening - because they've been vaccinated.

What's the harm in skipping some of the recommended vaccines?

When you delay or skip any of the age-appropriate vaccines scheduled for your child, you may be putting your child's health at risk. Children today receive many more vaccines than their parents did years ago. Why? Science is evolving, and researchers are finding new ways to protect children. The American Academy of Pediatrics draws a parallel between the evolution of vaccines and seatbelts or car seats. Once upon a time, we lived without them, but today, we wouldn't dream of not using them.

Some vaccines are given as a series, requiring children to get one shot at a certain age, and another follow-up vaccine at a later date - months or even years later. Parents should not rely on the initial vaccine to provide full immunity; a child needs to receive all shots in a series in order to have full protection against the disease.