By Kenneth Thomas, MD – Chief Medical Officer, Pediatrician
In my experience in pediatrics, I know parents often have questions about childhood vaccinations. In this post, I will answer some of the most common questions I hear.
- How do vaccines work? Vaccines greatly reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to disease. Vaccines work by stimulating the body to create defenses against disease-bearing bacteria or viruses. A vaccine contains a weakened version of the germ (or the toxin they produce), or parts of the germ, to “imitate” an infection — just enough to prompt the body’s immune system to get busy learning how to recognize and fight off the infection.
This type of infection does not cause illness, but it does cause the immune system to produce T-lymphocytes (White Blood Cells) and antibodies to respond to the infection. Sometimes, after getting a vaccine, the imitation infection can cause minor symptoms, such as fever. This is normal and expected as the body builds immunity. Once the imitation infection goes away, the body is left with a supply of “memory” T-lymphocytes, as well as B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight that disease in the future.
- Can someone who’s been vaccinated still get the disease? It typically takes time for the immune system to develop an adequate level of protection after vaccination. So it is possible that a person who was infected with a disease just before or after vaccination could develop symptoms and catch the disease, because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but most come pretty close, and the vaccine may prevent the most severe complications of the disease such as hospitalizations or death.
- Is the “natural” way better? This is a belief that it’s better to catch the real disease and let your body deal with it. This is a dangerous belief, as the fact is children can suffer from serious consequences or die from measles, chicken pox, whooping cough and other preventable diseases. Vaccines save lives.
- Why are there so many childhood vaccinations? Decades of research have developed the detailed schedules of recommended vaccines throughout a lifetime. The vaccines are carefully timed for maximum effectiveness. Some vaccines require multiple doses to achieve immunity or booster doses to maintain protection. (I’ll talk more about this in my next post.).
- Why do babies and young children need vaccines? In general, vaccines are recommended for members of the youngest age group at risk for experiencing the specific disease, for which efficacy and safety have been demonstrated. We try to protect children before they are likely to encounter the disease.
- Are vaccines toxic? Unsafe? Untested? In the United States, vaccines are regulated and required to meet standards for safety and effectiveness before they are approved for use. This includes careful testing and controls in their development and production. The vaccines are safe and only a tiny fraction of people ever have a serious reaction to them. Take a look at The Journey of Your Child’s Vaccine, an explanation of the vaccine development process, for more information.
- Are these the same vaccines offered at big hospitals and specialty health centers? SHS vaccines are those approved and recommended by medical experts and the government. There is no differentiation in vaccines based on income, race, religion, gender or any other attribute.
Here at SHS, we know vaccines are safe. Vaccines are important protections against disease. It is our desire that the children of this community are as safe and healthy as possible. If you have other questions, let’s talk.
Let’s get our entire community healthy. Please bring your children for regular physical and Well-Child exams. Call 816-923-5800 to schedule an appointment.
Have other questions about vaccines? Leave your question in the comment box below or come visit the SHS pediatric clinic.