Expert Q+A: Is There a Link Between Vaccines and Autism?

Q. Are we giving too many vaccines today, too soon?

More vaccines are actually a good thing! Every new vaccine protects more kids from getting sick, expensive hospital stays, and perhaps death or permanent injury. More kids are prevented from devastating diseases than ever before, thanks to vaccines. What about getting several shots at once? Is that dangerous? Could you overload a child's immune system with these vaccine germs?

Look at it this way: Your child is exposed to thousands of germs on a daily basis (even if he is not in daycare). Exposing your child to five or eight different germs in the form of vaccines is a spit in the bucket. And young kids have a better immune response to vaccines than older children and adults.

Before a vaccine is approved for use by the government, its safety is extensively studied. These studies look at how kids respond to the vaccine. And so-called "combo" vaccines that incorporate several shots at once also consider the combined effect. Even if your child got 11 shots at the same time, he would need to use only about 0.1 percent of his immune system to respond to the vaccines.The goal is to protect your child as quickly as possible from diseases that are very dangerous to young children.

And even though the number of shots has gone up, the actual load on the immune system has gone down. That's because today's vaccines are "smarter" and better engineered than the shots from a few decades ago. Case in point: whooping cough. Before 1991, the whooping cough vaccine had 3,000 different germ particles (antigens). Today's whopping cough shot has just three to five particles-just as effective, but much better designed to be easy on your immune system.

Before 1996, the polio vaccine was "live" -- this carried a small risk of actually getting polio. Today's polio vaccine is dead (inactivated), and carries no chance of getting the disease.

So, here's the irony: Your parents took much greater risk when getting vaccinated back in the 50's, 60's and 70's. Today, even though we have many more vaccines, the risk is much lower. Our children are really getting smarter, safer vaccines today and better protection than we ever got as kids. Bottom line: Vaccines do not weaken the immune system, they boost it.

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