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Protecting Our Future: Understanding Childhood Vaccines & Immunization

Decades ago, polio was the most feared contagious disease in the United States. Outbreaks occurred regularly through the 1950s. During this time, terrified parents refused to let their kids play outside and desperately ill children being treated for polio were placed on medieval, life-sustaining ventilators called iron lungs.

Fortunately, most Americans today no longer fear contracting polio. The polio vaccine was made available in 1955 and eliminated the virus that caused the dreaded disease in the United States. It’s one of many vaccines available to babies and young children today.

National Infant Immunization Week is observed annually during the last week of April. It highlights the need to protect children two years old and younger from vaccine-preventable diseases such as meningitis, hepatitis B, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough.

Vaccines are estimated to prevent 2-4 million childhood deaths every year worldwide, and are the most widely researched and studied medical interventions used by the medical community. It’s important for as many people as possible to get vaccinated to establish herd immunity in a community. When herd immunity is achieved, those in the population who cannot be vaccinated, such as infants and the immunocompromised (cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, for example), are protected.

Dr. Sun Lee
Dr. Sun Lee is a pediatrician with Community Memorial Health Centers and Community Memorial Pediatrics.

When it comes to information about vaccines for infants and children, your pediatrician is your go-to resource. Dr. Sun Lee, a pediatrician who practices at Community Memorial Health Centers, addressed six common questions and concerns parents and guardians have about childhood vaccines.

Why do babies need vaccines?

“A baby’s immune system is not fully developed at birth, so babies face a greater risk of becoming infected and becoming seriously ill,” said Dr. Lee. “Vaccines protect infants by helping build up their own natural defenses against specific life threatening diseases. Protection that babies get through their pregnant mothers late in pregnancy and also through breastmilk after birth is variable and may not fully protect them, but also wears off over time. This makes vaccines essential to help keep newborns safe.”

Are childhood vaccines safe?

“Childhood vaccines are overwhelmingly safe. There are common, minor side effects such as pain of the injection, mild fever, or tenderness at the injection site. But major side effects such as allergic reaction, or a reaction to a vaccine that causes death, are extremely rare,” said Dr. Lee. Activities that we do on a daily basis can be dangerous and carry risk. For example, every year in the United States, about 350 people are killed in bath- or shower-related accidents, about 5,000 people are killed when food gets stuck in their windpipe, and thousands are killed in car crashes. However, we don’t stop taking baths, eating solid food, or driving cars. “The diseases we vaccinate against haven’t gone anywhere, we are just better protected against them,” said Dr. Lee, “The CDC estimates that 4 million deaths are prevented worldwide each year by childhood vaccines. Unfortunately due to the fear surrounding vaccines, immunizations rates have been decreasing over the past decade. This is why we are seeing recent outbreaks of measles in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and polio in New York.”

Do childhood vaccines cause autism or developmental delays?

“No. There is zero credible research or evidence tying childhood vaccines to autism or developmental delays, but there has been study after study that show there is no increased risk of Autism associated with being vaccinated” Dr. Lee confirmed. “Incidentally, rates of immunizations in the Unites States are declining, but autism diagnoses are increasing.”

Is it important to follow the recommended schedule for childhood vaccines?

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the vaccine schedule based on when an infant is likely to be most susceptible to diseases,” said Dr. Lee. “Also, if your child is not vaccinated on schedule and develops fever, it could lead to much more invasive diagnosis and treatment procedures like spinal taps due to increased risk of life threatening infections.” Infants and young children who follow immunization schedules that delay or omit shots are at risk of developing diseases during the time the shots are delayed. “Delaying vaccines is like putting your children a five-point car seat and not strapping them in completely,” emphasized Dr. Lee. “You are not fully protecting your child. Parents often ask me which vaccine is the most important, but they all are.”

Are vaccines loaded with dangerous components?

“Vaccines do contain chemicals such as aluminum and formaldehyde that help vaccines be more effective, but like anything else in life it depends on how much you are exposed to,” explained Dr. Lee. “Simple things such as too much water can cause seizures in infants and too many carrots can lead to liver toxicity in adults.” As humans, we ingest 2 - 10 times the amount of aluminum in our daily diet than is contained in the vaccines administered during the first 6 months of life. Breastmilk itself has double the amount of aluminum than vaccines in the first 6 months of life. An infant in general has about 1,500 times the amount of formaldehyde naturally in their body than what is in any individual vaccine. “This is why vaccine additives are safe for infants and children but make them safer and more effective,” said Dr. Lee.

Is it safe to give a baby or small child multiple vaccines at once?

“Absolutely,” Dr. Lee confirmed. “An infant has the capacity to respond to 10,000 vaccines at one time – that’s how little our immune system responds to the vaccine. It’s not overwhelming your immune system.”

Community Memorial offers pediatric care at a variety of Community Memorial Health Centers throughout Ventura County, including Community Memorial Pediatrics, conveniently located in Oxnard.

For more information on vaccines for infants and children, visit the CDC’s childhood vaccine webpage.