Working Toward Safer Shots
Even though scientists have dispelled many rumors surrounding the dangers of childhood inoculations, there are still risks. Some recent changes aim to reduce them:
Three years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised pediatricians to stop using the oral polio vaccine (which causes actual polio in 1 in 2.4 million doses) as well as the whole-cell DTP vaccine (which can cause side effects like fever, convulsions, and, in rare cases, an extreme allergic reaction). Now, only inactivated polio vaccine is used. Doctors may still have the old, whole-cell DTP in stock, so ask for the DTaP one.
Another concern has been mercury, which is used in small amounts as a preservative in vaccines. In 1999 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that with more baby shots, mercury levels in infants could rise above safe levels. Major public-health organizations and the pharmaceuticals industry agreed to remove the toxic metal from pediatric vaccines. All are now available in at least one mercury-free formulation, but you'll need to specifically request it.
The biggest change occurred with the rotavirus vaccine, which protected against serious infant diarrhea. It was only on the market for a year when CDC studies showed that children with a rare form of bowel obstruction called intussusception were more likely to have received the vaccine the week before. The risk was very, very small -- it didn't become apparent until 15 out of 1.5 million babies who received the shot got the condition. Researchers are now working on a new vaccine.