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Your Most Common Vaccine Questions, Answered

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

What are vaccines exactly?

Vaccines are made of inactive or very weakened forms of a bacteria or virus. When they enter the body (either orally or through an injection), the immune system responds by creating protective antibodies. These antibodies then live in the body, providing protection against any exposure to the full-force version of the disease.

Are vaccines safe?

Without daily reminders of the threat of these diseases, some people have started to fear the vaccines more than the diseases that they prevent. In recent years, a very vocal anti-vaccine movement has emerged, suggesting that vaccines are to blame for everything from allergies to diabetes to asthma to autism. While none of these claims have been proven true, there is still a growing community of scared parents who choose not to vaccinate their children based on this misinformation. In turn, these well-meaning parents end up putting their children at risk, and endangering their community as a whole.

As with any medical intervention, nothing is 100-percent risk free. But when you weigh the risks and benefits, the benefits of protecting your child against deadly diseases far outweigh the very remote risk that the vaccine may cause a reaction. The vast majority of children receiving an immunization will not have any reaction and if they do, it will be a minor one, like redness or soreness at the injection site.

Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?

It's easy to be scared off by the idea of injecting your child with even an extremely weakened or inactive form of an illness. But think of this: The average bacterium that causes a common ear infection is made up of about 3,000 immune components. Every dose of every shot that your child will receive between now and age 8, added together, contain only about 150 immune components. Even when your child gets many shots at once, it's still just a tiny amount of the billions of bacteria that her immune system deals with on a daily basis.

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?

Blame it on progress. "As long as there are diseases which cause children to suffer, to be hospitalized, or to die, and as long as we have the technology to stop that, we will have more vaccines," says Paul A. Offit, M.D., chief of Infectious Diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

What are vaccines exactly?
What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

Is it okay to skip some vaccines?

"There is not a vaccine out there that prevents a disease that couldn't potentially cause a child to be hospitalized or die," says Dr. Offit. "Why take the chance?"

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

Do these diseases even still exist?

Unlike our parents and grandparents, we're lucky to live in an era that has benefited from a widely immunized population. Many of the shots that our kids receive prevent diseases that many of us haven't even heard of - diphtheria, anyone? "Many parents today don't realize how serious these diseases are because they never have had any personal experience with them," says Dr. Offit. "Our parents' generation saw what diphtheria, pertussis, and polio could do. Mumps used to cause deafness, and in men, infertility. Measles used to strike four million children a year, causing 100,000 of them to go to the hospital and 500 to die every year.  The fact that many parents today don't know how serious these diseases can be reflects how successful vaccines have been in our country."

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?

When immunization rates drop, these deadly diseases can reemerge. That's because vaccines aren't 100-percent effective; about 95 percent of the protection comes from the vaccine and the remaining protection comes from living in a community where there are low rates of the disease. So for vaccines to keep a disease in check, most people in a community need to be immunized, so they're not contracting and spreading the disease. This way, the few people that are not able to be vaccinated -- say, a child sick with leukemia, or a newborn who hasn't had her shots -- will hopefully be protected by what's called "herd" or "community" immunity.

There are parents who choose not to vaccinate their children based on either religious, philosophical or health objections, and the vaccines that are required to enter daycare or school vary from state to state. Many of these parents argue that their unvaccinated kids can benefit from herd immunity, too. Unfortunately, this isn't a reliable way to protect your child. There have been deadly outbreaks of measles and pertussis in the United States in areas where vaccine rates have fallen. In Eastern Europe and Russia, where immunization has dropped, there have been tens of thousands of cases of diphtheria. For vaccines to work, a community needs to have high rates of immunization. Immunization not only protects your child, but your nieces, nephews, and neighbors, too.

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?

"With the exception of tetanus, which is not transmitted person-to-person, if everyone in the world was vaccinated but your child, you could argue it's better not to be vaccinated," says Dr. Offit.  "The problem is, not everyone in the world is vaccinated. These diseases still occur commonly in the developing world and occasionally in this country as became evident by recent outbreaks of measles, pertussis, mumps, and Hib meningitis. Also there is a societal responsibility here; there are hundreds of thousands of people who can't be vaccinated, because they're getting chemotherapy or immunosuppressive drugs for their diseases or transplants. They depend on living among a group of people who are vaccinated, and if that vaccination wanes, they're at higher risk."

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?

"Natural infection is better than immunization in the sense that the immune response is often greater," says Dr. Offit. "That's why you sometimes need more than one dose of a vaccine, so that you can build up an immunity closer to what you'd get from natural infection, without the risks and symptoms of getting the disease, itself. The question should be, is the protection my child gets from vaccines adequate?  The answer is yes, as proven by the fact that through vaccination we've eliminated many diseases."

The benefits of vaccines are that you get the protection against the disease without the risks of getting the disease itself. That's why actually attempting to expose your child to a virus that is spreading among other children through events such as "chicken pox parties," is, however well-intended, a really bad idea. Before the chicken pox vaccine became available in 1995, there were around 11,000 hospitalizations for chicken pox every year and about fifty children a year died from the disease, and even children who didn't have serious complications from chicken pox still had to suffer the itching, fevers, and potential scars of the disease. Doctors say there's no good reason to make your child endure those symptoms when there's a safe and effective vaccine available.

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?

If you wait until school to vaccinate your child, she won't be protected against illnesses that typically occur in the first two years of life, such as haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), pertussis, or pneumococcus.  In fact, doctors now recommend that everyone in the household make sure their own vaccines are up to date before bringing a newborn home, to prevent transmission of these diseases to the infant in the first two months of life, before he can be vaccinated.

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

What is thimerosal?

Part of the controversy around vaccines stems from a preservative called thimerosal that was once regularly used in vaccines. Concerns arose because thimerosal is a compound that contains a form of mercury, known as ethylmercury. Another type of mercury, known as methylmercury,  can, in large doses (say, from drinking contaminated water or eating large amounts of contaminated fish), harm the brain development of a fetus or child. With the increased number of shots that children receive, some wondered whether children were being exposed to too much of this preservative. In particular, there were concerns that the preservative was to blame for increasing rates of autism, a behavioral disorder that has been on the rise in the U.S. in the past few decades.

As a precautionary measure, thimerosal was removed in 1999 from most vaccines. But it's worth understanding that while the methylmercury found in large fish can build up in the body and harm the developing brain of a growing child, the ethylmercury in thimerosal does not build up in the body. "It's never been linked to any adverse effect," says William Schaffner, M.D., professor and chair of preventive medicine department in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center,  Nashville, TN. And autism rates in the US have continued to rise even after the preservative was removed from nearly all of the vaccines that children receive. In 2010, a U.S. court ruled that vaccines containing thimerosal cannot cause autism on their own.

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?

Thimerosol is found in some forms of the flu vaccine but not in all of them -- here's why: "The least expensive form of flu vaccine is the ten-dose vials for which a new needle and syringe are used for each patient but ten patients would get vaccine from the same vial and those vials do contain thimerosol," says Lance Rodewald, M.D., director of the immunization services division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "However, the single-dose injectable forms of influenza vaccine do not contain thimerosol, nor does the mist that goes in the nose, so parents can find thimerosol-free influenza vaccines very easily."  But again, the ethylmercury in thimerosal does not build up in the body and has never been linked to adverse effects.

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

How worried should I be about side effects?
Although minor side effects such as redness at the injection site or mild fevers can happen after a vaccine, severe side effects, such as allergic reactions, are very rare.  There have been cases of children having allergic reactions to the influenza vaccine, because it is made in eggs, and to the stabilizing agent gelatin, used in the chicken pox vaccine; if such allergies run in your family, or if you know your child has them, talk to your doctor before getting him those vaccines, and always talk to your doctor if your child suffers any unusual symptom after receiving a vaccine.

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?
That's probably not necessary. "There are many studies looking at children with upper respiratory tract infections, diarrheal diseases, and ear infections that have found that these minor illnesses neither make vaccines work less effectively nor cause more side effects from them," says Dr. Offit.  "If your child has a very severe illness, such as meningitis or bacterial pneumonia, talk to your doctor about possibly waiting to be vaccinated."

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

If I'm breastfeeding, isn't my baby immune to all the diseases I'm immune to?

Some immunity is passed through breastmilk, but not sufficient immunity to protect against the diseases prevented by vaccines. You should still have your baby vaccinated on schedule.

What are vaccines exactly?
Are vaccines safe?
Can my baby's immune system handle so many shots?
Why do kids today get so many more vaccines than they did years ago?
Is it okay to skip some vaccines?
Do these diseases even still exist?
What happens if parents choose not to vaccinate?
Wouldn't my unvaccinated child be protected if all the other kids are immunized?
Doesn't getting the disease itself give my child better immunity than she'd get from a vaccine?
Can't I wait to vaccinate my child until she is ready to start school?
What is thimerosal?
Doesn't the flu vaccine still contain thimerosol?
How worried should I be about side effects?
If my child is sick, should I wait he's better to have him vaccinated?

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