Childhood vaccines: Facts vs. fiction

July 1, 2021

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As a parent, your child’s safety and wellbeing is your priority. And your child’s pediatrician is a partner in ensuring that wellbeing. One of the ways you can help keep your child safe is by following expert recommendations for immunizations.

Many myths about vaccines have circulated rapidly, both on and offline. There are several reputable resources[1][2] that caregivers can turn to when sorting out fact and fiction. Here, we’ve compiled some of the most common myths and fast facts about vaccines.

Fact: Vaccines save lives

Thanks to immunizations, we have vaccines that can prevent more than 20 life-threatening illnesses. In fact, diseases like smallpox, tetanus and diphtheria, which used to frequently cause death or disability, are virtually gone from the United States. Each year, vaccines prevent up to 3 million deaths.

Fiction: Vaccines overwhelm the immune system

Despite its debunking, the idea sometimes persists that giving many vaccines close together can overwhelm the immune system and have a harmful effect. “Actually, our immune system is stimulated every day by germ invaders into our body. The stimulation caused by vaccines is much, much smaller,” explains Theodore Zwerdling, MD, pediatrician with Adventist Health Feather River. Vaccines commonly cause mild side effects, such as a sore arm or tiredness, but these go away within a few days.

Fact: Vaccines go through rigorous testing

All vaccines go through rigorous processes of testing before being recommended for general public use. These clinical trials evaluate both the effectiveness of vaccines and their potential side effects. Even after clinical trials, vaccines must go through further safety and efficacy reviews before being rolled out into any national program. As long as vaccines are in use, any side effects continue to be reported. Millions of people safely receive vaccines each year.

Fiction: Vaccines lead to illness or infection

Many people misunderstand how vaccines work. Vaccines rely on the use of antigens, or foreign invaders. Vaccines contain small amounts of disease-specific antigens; these doses are so miniscule that they do not give you the disease itself. Instead, they trigger your body to create antibodies. Antibodies are disease-fighting proteins that help you build immunity to a disease.

If you already have antibodies when you are exposed to a disease, your body can fight the infection more effectively. Babies and children may not be strong enough to fight infections if they are exposed to them. Vaccines help their immune systems get stronger and protect them from life-threatening illnesses.

Fact: Pediatricians have your child’s safety in mind

“We don’t give any medication that has no potential side effects, and vaccines are the same,” Dr. Zwerdling explains. “But when we recommend any medication or vaccine, it’s because we believe the benefits outweigh the potential side effects.”

After a vaccination, your child might feel tired, irritable or have mild soreness where they got the shot. These side effects only last a few days. If your child gets one of the diseases that vaccines protect against, the effects could be life-altering or life-threatening.

Building a relationship with your pediatrician

It’s important to build a relationship with a trusted pediatrician. That way, when you have concerns or questions about your child’s health, you can ask someone you trust.

“It can be very hard for us to understand the benefit of vaccines when we’ve never seen a child who has meningitis,” Dr. Zwerdling points out. It’s easy to see that your child is uncomfortable or afraid of a needle. But with vaccines, the goal is to prevent a life-threatening illness that could occur five to 10 years in the future.

“As pediatricians, our aim is to meet families where they are,” says Dr. Zwerdling. “If a parent is vaccine hesitant, we want to find out why they are hesitant and work to understand those concerns. At the end of the day, you make the final choice for your child and we will offer excellent care either way.”

For help finding a pediatrician near you, find an Adventist Health provider today.

[1] World Health Organization. Vaccines and Immunization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/vaccines-and-immunization

[2] National Health Service. Why vaccination is safe and important. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/why-vaccination-is-safe-and-important/