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

What about using an alternative vaccination schedule?

The Centers for Disease Control publishes a recommended vaccine schedule for all children in the US, and this schedule wasn't created from thin air. Doctors, scientists and researchers work together to decide what is the best time to give shots. The goal: protect as many babies as soon as possible from deadly disease.

Now, one of the popular myths about autism is that somehow kids are getting "too many shots, too soon." Despite the scientific evidence that shows vaccines do not cause autism, some parents think that if they space out their kids' vaccines in an "alternative schedule" this is somehow safer. Adding to this notion are blogs, books and web sites that promote alternative vaccine schedules, delaying critical shots months or years after a child can safely receive them.

Here's a nasty little truth about alternative vaccination schedules: they are all fantasy. There is absolutely no research that says delaying certain shots is safer. Doctors who promote these schedules are simply guessing when to give which shots. What we know for certain is that delaying your child's shots is playing Russian Roulette. The simple truth is you are leaving your child unprotected. Who knows what disease (preventable from a simple vaccine) will crop up next? Deadly diseases like measles are only a plane flight away.

Also: spreading out vaccinations creates new challenges. Live vaccines must be given at least four weeks apart to mount an active immune response. Take the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine -- your child could get one combo shot and take care of all three deadly diseases at once. If you get three separate shots, however, it would take at least three months (because each is a live vaccine). That leaves kids unprotected until the series is completed.

When families demand a spaced out vaccination schedule, this is what I tell them as their doctor: "At the end of the day, I just want your child vaccinated. If you want to give two shots today and two next week, that's okay. Just come back. And promise me you will do it in a timely manner." The goal: make sure the child is protected.

One important point to remember: despite all the media attention to this subject, very few parents actually choose to delay or opt out of vaccinations.

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