When it comes to their tiniest patients, docs sure know how to stick it to 'em. Nearly every checkup during your baby's first two years ends with at least one shot, and at some visits, she may need to have as many as five injections. Seeing your little one cry out in pain can be torturous. So who can blame you for wondering: Is it really necessary -- or even safe -- for your infant to receive so many vaccines?
If you ask infectious disease experts, the answer is crystal clear. "There's no evidence that giving vaccines is dangerous," says American Baby advisor Paul A. Offit, M.D., director of the Vaccine Education Center and chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "However, we have plenty of proof that they prevent serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases." And the theory that vaccines cause autism has been discredited.
To allay your worries, it's important to understand how immunizations actually work. Each vaccine contains substances (called antigens) that cause the disease the shot protects against, but in an impotent form that's too weak to bring on the symptoms of the illness. The antigens are powerful enough, though, to trigger your baby's immune system to produce antibodies against the disease, which prevent her from getting sick. Although more vaccines have been added to the schedule over the past decade, today's shots contain far fewer antigens than they did in the past. Your child will need three or four doses of certain vaccines, spaced out strategically, before her body will produce enough antibodies to fully protect her. "Timing is crucial, and a lot of thought goes into the recommended vaccine schedule," says Dennis J. Cunningham, M.D., a physician specializing in pediatric infectious diseases at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.