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Living Well

Childhood Vaccines: What Parents Need to Know

Last updated: Aug 15, 2016

As you start back-to-school shopping, it is also time to check if your kids are up-to-date on their routine shots. Ever since the anti-vaccine movement started nearly 20 years ago, diseases like measles and whooping cough have been slowly popping back up around the country. This spring, several cases of meningitis, a serious bacterial infection, were reported at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“It is more important than ever that parents stick to a regular immunization schedule because these infectious diseases can have devastating consequences,” says Daniel E. Hermann, MD, MPH, Chair of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Summit Medical Group.

“Some parents do not want to put something in their child’s body that has not been around for thirty years. But when a lot of people have that attitude, we start to see serious diseases that had been eradicated in the United States come back.”

Such diseases include:

  • Measles – Since 2010, there have been between 63 and 667 cases of measles in the U.S. each year.
  • Mumps – In 2015, there were 1,057 cases of mumps reported nationwide.
  • Whooping cough – There were 32,971 cases of whooping cough across the country in 2014—a 15% increase from the previous year.
  • Meningitis – Some 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis, and nearly 500 deaths from the disease, occurred each year in the United States between 2003 and 2007.  

Despite these alarming statistics, vaccines remain a topic of controversy and concern. Dr. Hermann addresses frequently asked questions from parents.

Q. Why is the theory that vaccines cause autism a myth?

Dr. Hermann: Nearly twenty years ago, a British surgeon wrote a fraudulent paper, claiming that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked with the development of autism. This false conclusion came from a single study that has since been discredited and the author lost his medical license. Since then, many additional studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. Furthermore, the best anecdotal evidence is that people have stopped giving vaccines anyway and the incidence of autism has continued to rise.

I want to vaccinate. Should I space out my baby’s shots to be safe?

Dr. Hermann: Absolutely not. Breaking up your infant’s immunizations puts them at risk for becoming infected with one of these diseases during that window. We follow the vaccine schedule from the American Academy of Pediatrics and have a policy in the department that all children need to be caught up with their shots by two and a half years of age.

My daughter’s preschool required the flu shot, but now that she is in public school it is not mandatory. Should I give it to her anyway?

Dr. Hermann: We recommend that children ages 6 months and older receive the flu shot. If your kid has an underlying condition like asthma—which puts them at greater risk of being admitted into the hospital when they are sick—it is even more important that they have the flu vaccine.

Some seasons the flu shot is not very effective. Why should I give it to my child if it does not always work well? 

Dr. Hermann: It is true that some years the CDC is wrong about the strains of the flu that will be circulating in the general population. When this happens, the shot is less effective. However, if you have the shot and still catch the flu, it will help limit the severity and duration of your illness. Recent studies have also shown that the flu shot is more effective than the flu mist.  The FluMist will not be available for the 2016-2017 flu season.

My son is allergic to eggs. Can he have a flu shot?

Dr. Hermann: Yes, we offer an egg-free vaccine option for the flu vaccine. To receive this shot, make an appointment with our pediatric allergy department.

I heard Gardasil is recommended for girls and boys now. Why should I give my nine-year-old a vaccine that protects against a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

Dr. Hermann: Gardasil is a vaccine that protects against a very common sexually transmitted virus called the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). It is estimated to cause more than 90 percent of cervical and anal cancers, 70 percent of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and more than 60 percent of penile cancers according to the Centers for Disease Control. HPV is also commonly linked to head and neck cancers in men.

This vaccine is one of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome with parents. They do not want to think about STDs when the vaccine is recommended beginning at 9 years old, let alone at any time. I tell parents I feel the same way. I am a parent of teenage girls.  It will not give them an excuse to be sexually active, but will protect them when it does happen. However, I did not want my daughters to get cancer, so I focused on their long-term health. That is what I stress to parents – cancer prevention.

What are the potential side effects from Gardasil? I have read some scary stories on the Internet.

Dr. Hermann: If you search the web you will find parents claiming that their child developed a rare autoimmune disorder called Guillain-Barré from the vaccine. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. It is the same incidence as in the general population, and is thought to be preceded by a viral illness.

The biggest side effects with any vaccination are local irritation, redness, inflammation, and mild pain. Since some teenagers are prone to fainting after the vaccine, we have patients sit in the exam or waiting room for ten minutes after they receive the shot.

References:

  1. Interview with Daniel E. Hermann, MD, MPH, Chair of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Summit Medical Group.
  2. Measles — http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html#outbreaks
  3. Mumps - http://www.cdc.gov/mumps/outbreaks.html
  4. Whooping cough -http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/outbreaks/trends.html
  5. Meningitis - http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial.html
  6. HPV-Associated Cancer Statistics -https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/index.htm
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