I mentioned before in my article on heavy metals that I am not completely against vaccines. Although they sometimes come with side effects, they’ve certainly saved a lot of lives. There was a time when there was absolutely no question that the risks of not vaccinating were much higher than the risks of choosing to vaccinate.
That said, the cost/benefit analysis is no longer quite so cut and dry. Vaccines are controversial now mostly because such a large percentage of the population is vaccinated, and so many of the illnesses our children are protected against are far less common than they once were. Thus, in some cases (but not all), the risks appear to outweigh the benefits.
That said, the decision to vaccinate, not to vaccinate, or to use an alternative vaccine schedule is a personal choice. Here’s a quick breakdown of a few things to consider.
- Hep B (Hepatitis B): this vaccine is given immediately after birth (with two more later), and it is a good idea if mom has Hep B, because then the baby will have been exposed. Otherwise, it is transferred almost exclusively via sexual or blood contact, and children are therefore unlikely to be exposed until adolescence. It’s unclear whether immunity will last into adulthood, however.
- RV (Rotavirus): this is a bigger issue in third world countries than in the US. Less than ten kids in the US die of Rotavirus yearly; if they catch it they’ll typically get symptoms such as a runny nose, fever, or at worst, watery diarrhea (which can cause dehydration – and this could be concerning depending on the size and age of the child).
- DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis): usually a series of five shots, although it can be four depending on the age of the child.
- Diphtheria is basically obsolete in the US but it’s part of the series, so you don’t really get to pick on this one – it’s all or nothing.
- Tetanus: once kids start walking, they may run the risk of, for instance, stepping on a rusty nail, or encountering a scorpion, and contracting this. It’s a serious and rapidly fatal infection, and although you can just get the tetanus shot after exposure, by the time you realize you’ve been exposed it’s already too late.
- Pertussis: if a baby contracts this under three months of age, it’s rapidly fatal. Older people, however, only get an annoying and persistent cough. The most common route of transmission to a newborn is through a family member so it’s often recommended for the adults in the newborn’s household.
- Hib (Haemophilus Influenzae): This is a four dose series typically. Infection can lead to epiglottitis (which closes the throat) and meningitis (infection of the tissue surrounding the brain), both of which are serious and potentially fatal. On the other hand, the vaccine has been associated with autoimmune disease.
- PCV (Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine): this is usually a four dose series vaccine against the most common strains of streptococcus pneumoniae, which (hence the name) can cause pneumonia, but can also cause meningitis in infants, and this can be very serious or fatal. However, the vaccine is live, which can make it tougher for a little one to handle if given in conjunction with other live vaccines.
- IPV (Inactivated Polio Vaccine): Polio is still common in India and Africa… not so much in the US. However, polio can have debilitating and lasting effects.
- Influenza: this is also a live vaccine, which means you can get the flu from the vaccine itself. It’s very rare for a child to die of the flu if he or she does get it. Some flu vaccines still have thimerosol (mercury) in them but some do not – you can request those that don’t.
- MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella): this vaccine contains three live viruses at once, which can overwhelm an immature immune system. This is also the vaccine most frequently connected with autism, though the debate on this point is quite heated. It has also been associated with ITP (Idiopathic Thromobocytopenia Purpura), or low platelets that lead to bruising with no clear cause.
- Rubella: if babies get this it isn’t a very big deal, but if a pregnant woman catches it, it can harm the fetus.
- Mumps: this can cause meningitis, but it is not as virulent as the form conferred by H. flu (Hib) or strep pneumo (PCV). It also has been linked to orchitis and sterility in teenage boys. But protection from childhood vaccination does not last into adulthood, so the traditional vaccine schedule includes a booster around 4-6 years.
- Measles: it’s miserable – the kid gets a high fever, a rash, lots of upper respiratory symptoms, and it’s quite contagious… but, all else being equal, they’ll fight it off and be fine. It can cause meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain itself,) but it usually doesn’t.
- Varicella (chicken pox): this is also a live vaccine. Kids can die from chicken pox, although they usually don’t. There is a chance that chicken pox sores can get infected and cause scarring, though. Older kids who catch the chicken pox have a much more severe case than younger kids, and if a pregnant woman gets it, it can cause deafness in the fetus. There is an increased rate of shingles post-vaccination, even in kids.
- MCV (Meningococcal Vaccines): this form of meningitis is particularly nasty, and once you catch it, it’s hard to treat – about 50% of those infected die from it, although death tends to occur around 16-20 years of age. For this reason, first vaccination is recommended at around 11 years, with a booster several years later to ensure continued protection. Some neurological side effects (Guillain Barre syndrome) are associated with the vaccine, although rarely.
A few other things to keep in mind: there are alternative vaccine schedules out there, which include some vaccines but not others, or which stagger vaccine doses so that the child does not receive all of them at once. This may be worth considering, for a couple of reasons.
- You may have noticed that the risk of infection for some of the illnesses above is small, and if it does happen, the consequences are not especially severe. For others, however, infection can have very severe consequences, no matter how unlikely. Take that into consideration when making your choice.
- The child’s immune system is immature for the first several years of his or her life, which means antibody response to vaccinations may not be as strong when they are given all at once.
- The preservatives in vaccines are often blamed for most of their side effect profiles. Spacing out vaccines rather than giving them all at once may help the child to handle the preservatives better.