I am a pediatrician and a mother of four. I can put in stitches, draw blood and do spinal taps, but when I saw the needle go into my baby daughter’s leg for her first immunization I cried! I knew, however, I was doing the right thing to keep her safe. Becoming a new parent is a wonderful yet overwhelming responsibility. Because I was a pediatrician, I thought that it would be a breeze for me. Wow, was I wrong! Sometimes the more medical knowledge we have, the harder it is. When my kids were sick, I found myself either thinking everything was fine and being up all night worrying that I was wrong or thinking of the worst case scenario and worrying that I was right! I had to give myself a break and realize I was learning as I went along, just like everyone else. Once I made that shift, it got so much better for me! No matter who we are or what we do, we can never be prepared for what’s ahead of us when we see our newborn baby for the first time. The best we can do is love our children and do whatever we can to keep them safe and healthy and rely on fact-based advice that comes from reliable sources.
As parents, we’d go to any length to keep our infants and children safe. We buckle them up, slather on sunscreen, hold their hands when crossing the street, talk to them about strangers and bullies, and try to keep our teenagers from making bad decisions. Immunizing our children is no different from any of the ways we protect our children from harm. Immunization, however, can be a very controversial subject. We are bombarded with information from many sources and often the advice is frustratingly contradictory. This can leave us confused, frustrated and frightened.
Unfortunately, the controversy is being stirred up again as recently as this week, as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, announced that he will head up a new panel on vaccine safety for Donald Trump. This is an unfortunate and dangerous situation. There is a lot of false information out there about the dangers of immunizing children, most of which has been proven to be incorrect based on scientific research. There is a common myth that MMR (measles, mumps and rubella vaccine) causes autism. This theory has been closely studied and is simply not true. All thimerosal (a mercury preservative previously used in immunizations), has been removed despite clear evidence that this preservative was never associated with harm in children. Since the time that thimerosal was removed, the rates of autism have increased! The examples go on and on.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “vaccines are the most significant innovation of our time.” The immunization schedule that is recommended by the AAP is based on thorough and solid research by leaders in the field. The mission of the AAP is to “attain optimal physical, mental and social health for all infants, children, adolescents and young adults.” Preventing disease with immunizations is one of the most important ways the AAP follows through with this statement. Boston Baby Nurse follows the guidelines of the AAP and, therefore, endorses the current immunization schedule. The AAP and, therefore BBN, would never recommend anything to infants and children that is unsafe.
The success of immunization over the past 50 years is astonishing. All you have to do is speak with an elderly friend or relative to hear about the children they watched suffer with polio or die from whooping cough. As in the recent outbreak of measles and mumps due to decreased immunization, we will start to see diseases emerge that used to be considered eradicated if this trend continues. This is truly frightening. Each and every immunization was created to protect children from a serious disease. The following is a brief outline of the immunizations currently available:
Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver (hepatitis) and can ultimately lead to liver cancer.
Pneumococcus is a bacteria that is a common cause of ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonia and meningitis. Now that children are being immunized against this bacteria, invasive illness in children has dramatically decreased.
Diphtheria is a bacteria that causes a respiratory illness that can lead to airway obstruction and death. This disease has virtually been eradicated in the U.S. by immunization.
Tetanus is a severe neurological disease caused by the toxin of a bacteria which has also been virtually eradicated by immunization in the U.S.
Pertussis, also known as “whooping cough,” is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract which can cause apnea (periods of not breathing) or even death in an infant.
HiB is an abbreviation for Haemophilus Influenzae Type B. This bacteria causes invasive diseases like pneumonia, epiglottitis and meningitis. Illness from this bacteria is almost never seen in the U.S. due to vaccination.
Measles is a virus that causes a respiratory illness with fever, cough and conjunctivitis; encephalitis (brain infection) can occur in 1 out of 1000 cases
Mumps is a virus that causes inflammation of the parotid (salivary) glands as well as other inflammation including orchitis (inflammation of the testes) and can be dangerous during pregnancy.
Rubella is a virus that can cause mild symptoms in children but it can cause severe abnormalities in babies if the mother has the virus during pregnancy.
Rotavirus is a stomach virus that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea and is a leading cause of death in children worldwide. In the U.S. it is a major cause of hospitalization.
Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver and can cause mild or significant GI symptoms. Kids can be carriers and spread it easily.
Varicella is the medical term for chickenpox. Although many people think that chickenpox is a right of passage in children, this virus can cause cause serious illness including central nervous system involvement. Severe damage can be caused to babies if a mother is infected while pregnant or if the baby is infected shortly after birth.
Influenza is a virus otherwise known as the flu that can cause an acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and chills and is often self-limiting, but, in some children, especially infants, it can cause severe disease including sepsis and encephalitis and can lead to death. Getting a flu vaccine does NOT cause you to get the flu. This immunization can only be given to babies over 6 months of age, so the best way to protect babies younger than 6 months is to immunize everyone around them.
There are other immunizations that children receive later in life such as the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) and the Meningitis vaccines.
When making decisions about immunizing our precious children, we must consider the sources from which we are getting our information. Anyone can put anything online – whether it’s true or not! The very best source of information is your child’s doctor. As pediatricians, we commit our careers to keeping kids safe and healthy. Recommending the immunization guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is one of the most important ways we do so. If you want to do further research, ask your physician to direct you to websites that are based on scientific knowledge and research such as the CDC website (www.cdc.gov). Just like we educate ourselves about the safety of different carseats, cribs and mattresses, and schools, we must be sure to properly educate ourselves about immunizations from reliable sources basing their recommendations on fact and data, not anecdotal evidence.
We all have a part in protecting our children. The more kids that are immunized in any community, the less likely it is that children in that community will be exposed to disease. It’s like a four way intersection. Every now and then a car can sneak through the intersection without stopping, but, if everyone goes through without stopping, chaos would result, and people would get hurt. Just as we are sure to stop at a stop sign while our children are safely buckled in the back seat of our cars, we must stop and think about the importance of fully immunizing our kids for their benefit and, therefore, for ours.