As a Naturopathic Doctor, I frequently counsel parents of young children on the pros and cons of vaccines. I am writing this blog post for readers who are especially skeptical and/or fearful of vaccines in general. Hopefully this basic information will prompt you to discuss this topic further with your child’s healthcare provider, especially if your child is not already vaccinated.
Here are some facts (with a Naturopathic spin):
1) Childhood vaccines save lives. Don’t believe me? Ask parents of children in third world countries where infection is still a leading cause of death of infants and children. Childhood vaccines are actually the MOST SUCCESSFUL public health program in terms of numbers of lives saved. If only we could have the same success with prevention of obesity and chronic diseases!
2) Autism is not caused by vaccines. This is bound to be a controversial statement, especially given the questionability of some of the research on vaccines and autism. The facts as we know them are that Autism is no more prevalent in vaccinated children vs. unvaccinated children and previously published research that suggested that thimerosal containing vaccines (the MMR, in particular) were linked to the development of Autism has since been retracted. Some of the latest research on Autism also suggests a much stronger genetic link than we once realized as well as a possible environmental link (meaning parents were right to be skeptical of preservatives in vaccines, but were possibly overlooking more common causes of environmental toxicity such as contaminated food and water). As a Naturopath, I firmly support efforts to research both the safety and efficacy of vaccines and also believe it is important to review all of the information at hand before reaching a conclusion. Too many anti-vaccine proponents have a view of the research that is far too narrow, in my opinion.
3) Childhood vaccines are only effective at protecting our children when a large majority of our children have been vaccinated (AKA “herd” protection). Areas where the vaccination rates dip below 70 percent have a clear increase in the number of outbreaks of vaccine preventable illnesses. This explains why diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) and measles are on the rise in certain parts of the country. Washington state, where I practice, has one of the lowest vaccine rates in the country–a problem that has resulted in infant deaths from vaccine preventable illnesses.
4) The CDC recommended vaccine schedule is not the only schedule supported by research. Other developed countries used slightly different schedules and for parents concerned about vaccine side effects, a suitable compromise may be to discuss and alternative vaccine schedule with your child’s provider.
5) Public Health vaccine schedules are designed to get maximum compliance and maximum protection for the youngest (and most at-risk) infants. If you are uncomfortable having your 2 month old vaccinated, you should talk to your child’s provider about minimizing their risk of exposure to vaccine preventable illness and at what point you will consider having your child vaccinated (this leads in to a discussion of alternative vaccine schedules). Infants who are put in daycare or taken out in public are at an increased risk of exposure to germs and illnesses, including vaccine preventable diseases. This should be weighed in to every parent’s decision to vaccinate.
6) Choosing NOT to vaccinate your child puts other children and susceptible adults at risk. If you choose not to vaccinate, you should also realize the moral obligation you have to keep your child quarantined should they become sick with a vaccine preventable illness. The only exception that I do not object to is when parents let their child intentionally expose other healthy children (with parents’ consent, of course) to chickenpox, a disease that can cause complications in a very small percentage of children. This exception should be discussed with your child’s healthcare provider as well, since it is certainly not advisable for all children and definitely not advisable if unvaccinated adults or pregnant women may be in contact with exposed children; however, exposure to the wild chickenpox virus vs. the vaccine is proven to provide much stronger and longer lasting protection (which is a critical point, since chickenpox can be a much more serious illness in adults).
7) Not all vaccines are suitable for all children. Besides the contraindications provided by the vaccine manufacturer, there are other unique circumstances (including religious and philosophical beliefs) that may preclude your child from receiving all of the vaccines. This does not mean your child cannot be protected, though. There are other things that you can do to boost your child’s immunity and keep them healthy, so their risk of infection (of any kind) is minimal. Naturopathic Doctors are experts in disease prevention and boosting the body’s immune system. Even if your child sees a conventional medical provider, you should consider visiting a Naturopathic Doctor if your child cannot be vaccinated for any reason.
Because I believe it is important for parents to have a conversation with their child’s healthcare provider, I am intentionally not publishing detailed information about individual vaccines and alternative vaccine schedules. You can find this information easily on the internet, but be forewarned that information on the internet may not always come from the most reliable sources and vaccine information is constantly changing as technology improves and more research is published.