• Is it dangerous that we give so many more vaccines to kids today? No.

    A couple of people on Twitter picked up on my vaccine post from last week, leading to the usual emails questioning vaccine use. A larger than usual number of them were irate at the increasing numbers of vaccines that we give kids today. They were sure that this must be dangerous. So I thought this might help; its adapted from my book:

    Let’s start by recognizing that the human body has an enormous capacity to respond to potential threats.  You are constantly exposed to foreign substances that stimulate your immune system.  In a manuscript specifically designed to answer this question in the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Paul Offit and colleagues estimated that infants have the capacity to respond to about 10,000 vaccines at any one time.  No vaccine could “use up” the immune system.  In fact, estimates showed that if a child received 11 vaccines at one time, that might occupy about 0.1% of the immune system.  You’d never notice that.

    Moreover, this argument against vaccines assumes that the cells being occupied or destroyed in the vaccine response process are not replaced.  You body is constantly making new cells, though, so this never occurs.

    Another point, often overlooked, is that it is not the number of vaccines, or even the number of shots, that matters.  It’s the number of antigens in those vaccines. An antigen is a molecule that the immune system recognizes. The immune system decides whether any molecules it comes in contact with belong to itself or whether they should be treated as foreign intruders. Vaccines are specifically designed to show the immune system an antigen that belongs to a particular disease so that the immune system will be armed and equipped to fight against that disease if it sees it again. Advances in technology have helped scientists create vaccines that contain fewer and fewer antigens and yet achieve a good response from your immune system.  Back in the day, a single smallpox vaccine had over 200 different proteins in it. In the 1980s, the 7 vaccines routinely given to children contained more than 2000 antigens. More recently, the 11 vaccines in the currently recommended schedule have only about 125 antigens in all. Even though it seems like a lot of shots, the immune system has to do far less work to respond to the current set of antigens than children’s immune systems have had to do over the past 30 years.

    This is confirmed in studies.  Research has shown that giving vaccines alone or in combination does not affect their ability to achieve a response.  A trial comparing the effectiveness of the MMR and chicken pox vaccine given together and alone showed no differences in their effectiveness. The immune system responded how it should whether the shots are given separately or given at the same time. Another study compared the effect of giving MMR, DTP and polio boosters at the same time to giving the vaccines individually, one after the other.  The vaccines were just as effective when they were given at the same time as when they were given individually. On other words, the immune system responded just as well when the shots were combined together.  The same result was seen when looking at adding Hepatitis B vaccines to other vaccines in infants.  Your body can easily handle the load.

    If you remain concerned that giving a vaccine weakens the immune system, studies show us this is not the case.  A study of almost 500 children in Germany found that infants who received vaccines in the first three months of life had less, not more, illness from germs. They had fewer illnesses from both germs that were included in the vaccines and from germs that were not covered by the vaccine. The babies’ immune systems were working fine! In fact, the immune systems in the children getting the shots may have even been working better. Another study of children in Alaska receiving the DTP vaccine found no relationship between getting vaccines and increased risks of other infections.

    And before anyone mentions autism, please go read this.

    Remember, we don’t want to poke your children any more than you do.  But they really do benefit from those vaccines.


    Extracted material from DON’T SWALLOW YOUR GUM! by Aaron Carroll, MD and Rachel Vreeman, MD copyright © 2009 by the author and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC

    • Thank you for posting this, and please keep on repeating this. I think your explanation is very accessible without being overly simplified.

      • Agreed, and having read both “Don’t Swallow your Gum” and “Don’t Cross Your Eyes” recently, I just want to add that they are treasure-troves of this type of information!

    • First off, I’m a wholehearted supporter of vaccinations for children. However, I’ve become more attuned to adverse effects since my daughter had a reaction (febrile seizure) a few hours after a series of vaccinations. She also had a bad reaction (fever/vomiting) after a flu shot.

      I’ve been disappointed with the amount of information available on choices about how to best provide vaccines for children who seem to be sensitive to them.

      As I understand it, there’s a national database of adverse vaccine effects. Has anyone used that data to see if there’s any useful data? I’m not that impressed by study sizes of 400 or 100 that you linked. If complications are relatively rare (1:1000) they may not show up, but they could still impact thousands of children. Yes, I know my critique is somewhat ironic since my experience is limited to a sample size of one (but I’m quite partial to her).

      In any case, I don’t think those studies are quite bullet proof enough to support your statement that “our body can easily handle the load.” For whatever reason, my daughter’s couldn’t and the result has been two temporary (thankfully), but unpleasant enough results.

      Since we’re vaccinating 80%+ infants why don’t we have a massive amount of data to work with? Do adverse effects get accurately reported?

    • Currently, children receive the following routine immunizations: diphtheria, pertusis, tetanus, polio, mumps, measles, rubella, varicella, rotavirus, pneumonia, hemophilus influenza (a bacteria), influenza (the seasonal virus), hepatitis A, menningococcus, hepatitis B, and human papilloma virus or HPV (Note: HPV has a checkered history and is currently not widely given.) For high risk children, an adult type of pneumonia vaccine is also given. This is sixteen. Other than influenza, large scale epidemic illnesses for children no longer occur since the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1969. Your immunologic observations represent the current chapter and verse for pediatric care. But as a mother with your first child, watching your child receive four injections seems totally un-natural….or your first grand-child. Ultimately, the hardest part of the immunization agreement is for parents to pursue immunizations because its for the common good. There are communities where immunization rates are less than 50% instead of the 85+% for most of the country. There are reports of mini-measles epidemics in these communities with tragic results. After public health measures for food, water and human waste, immunization ranks as the most important achievement for the health of children in the last 100 years. Recently, the increasingly unstable production of immunization agents is the only black mark on this continuing achievement.

      For Peter, the Vaccine Adverse Effects Data base is quite large and regularly used to monitor adverse events (for new vaccines) and qualify children for certain known adverse effects. There is a federal excise tax on certain immunizations that supports a fund that will make payments to parents for the financial support necessary to obtain special healthcare required by certain serious adverse effects from a vaccine. This fund was created after the pertusis reactions reported in the late 1970s, and there was a concern that pharmaceutical companies would stop making vaccines because of runaway liability claims. Thus, the liability fund was created by Congress. Its a success story rarely reported. Also, the early pertusis vaccine was eventually replaced with a much safer vaccine.