Myth 1: Getting so many vaccines will overwhelm my child's immune system.
No doubt about it, the immunization schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) can seem daunting. Your child can receive up to 23 shots by the time she's 2 years old and as many as six shots at a single doctor visit. So it's not surprising that many parents have concerns about how vaccines might affect a child's developing immunity and often cite these as a reason to refuse a vaccine.
But it should be the least of your worries. "Children have an enormous capacity to respond safely to challenges to the immune system from vaccines," says Dr. Offit. "A baby's body is bombarded with immunologic challenges -- from bacteria in food to the dust they breathe. Compared to what they typically encounter and manage during the day, vaccines are literally a drop in the ocean." In fact, Dr. Offit's studies show that in theory, healthy infants could safely get up to 100,000 vaccines at once.
The bottom line: It's safe to give your child simultaneous vaccines or vaccine combinations, such as the five-in-one vaccine called Pediarix, which protects against hepatitis B, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (also known as whooping cough). Equally important, vaccines are as effective given in combination as they are given individually.
Myth 2: As long as other children are getting vaccinated, mine don't need to be.
Skipping vaccinations puts your baby at greater risk for potentially life-threatening diseases. "The ability of immunizations to prevent the spread of infection depends on having a certain number of children immunized," says Thomas Saari, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison. "Scientists refer to this as 'herd immunity.' Unfortunately, the level of immunization required to prevent diseases such as measles from spreading from child to child is high -- 95 percent." In 2003, the national vaccination rate in children ages 19 to 35 months was only about 80 percent -- though that number increases to the mid-90s when children reach school age.
These rates may not be high enough to provide herd immunity, especially as exemptions from school vaccines are on the rise. In studies from Colorado, where residents claim high numbers of vaccine exemptions for medical, personal, and religious reasons, kids who are not immunized are at greater risk for disease. Case in point: They're 22 times more likely to come down with measles.