'I'm a Doctor and a Parent': Here's How Vaccines Work
It might seem that every time you take your child for a well visit, he gets a shot. As hard as it is to see him wail from those pricks, they're over fast—and they protect him from life-threatening diseases.
"Vaccines are like your child's very own Captain America shield," says Micky Obradovic, M.D., a pediatrician at Lakeside Pediatrics, in Burbank, California, and a member of the Parents AAP Panel. But physicians like Dr. Obradovic understand your concerns about vaccines. They're parents, too, whose kids probably hate shots just as much as yours do.
We asked our panel what they really wish people knew about vaccines. Here are their thoughts.
Think of vaccines as seat belts.
Three of the doctors use this analogy: Whenever you get in the car, you buckle up your child to prevent a severe injury in case you're in an accident. Even though crashes are rare, you take this step to minimize the potential impact. The same goes for vaccines: When you vaccinate your child, if she's exposed to a vaccine-preventable illness, she'll be much less likely to catch it. Even if she does, she'll probably get a milder form than an unvaccinated child would get.
Ask your doctor as many questions as you’d like.
Are you concerned about the number of shots? Side effects? Ingredients? Nearly all the docs said that they want to hear and understand your worries, so spill!
"Even though I am a strong proponent of vaccines and well-versed in the literature around them, I had my own moment of discomfort before my child got his first shots," says Nathan Chomilo, M.D., a pediatrician at Park Nicollet, in Minneapolis. "Anytime I give my child a new medication he hasn't had before, I feel the same way. But, as with a vaccine, I am quickly reassured by remembering its safety and effectiveness and the possible suffering my child would avoid by having it."
Vaccines DO NOT cause autism.
In fact, research has shown that autism rates have continued to rise despite a decrease in immunization rates. Vaccines are given during the time when young kids experience rapid development, which is also the time when symptoms of autism begin to emerge. It is a coincidence if a child's behavior seems to change around the time he gets shots, but it is not a cause-and-effect situation, explains Hillary Zieve, M.D., a pediatrician in Orange, California.
There’s a mountain of research supporting vaccines.
"Vaccines are not perfect, but they are far better regulated and extensively studied and tested for safety and efficacy than any other medical intervention we have—better than the antibiotics your child might take for pneumonia or the cast for her broken arm or the breathing treatment for his asthma," says Laura Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Salt Lake City.
An unvaccinated kid can get really sick.
"As a pediatric emergency medicine physician, I see kids with vaccine-preventable illnesses like pertussis, influenza, and, recently, measles," says Elizabeth B. Murray, D.O., a pediatrician at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York. "Time and time again, parents say, 'We didn't really think this was going to happen.' "
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Vaccines protect the whole community.
That's why we talk about herd immunity. Babies who can't get vaccinated yet and people with compromised immune systems (such as cancer patients) are at risk of getting sick. When most of the healthy people among the general public have been immunized, highly contagious illnesses like measles and influenza decrease because fewer people have a chance to get infected.
"Vaccinating may be scary in the moment, but for the rest of your child's life, you can feel confident that you did your best to protect him and others from a preventable disease," says Meghan Rioth, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Colorado, in Aurora.