Why Vaccinating Your Child Is Important
By Dr. Lindy Samson, Chief, Infectious Diseases
As a parent or parent-to-be, perhaps you’ve asked yourself questions about vaccinations. I regularly meet with parents who have questions about the need for and safety of the recommended childhood vaccinations. Here is what I usually tell parents when meeting with them…
Why is immunization important?
Immunizing your child is one of the most important and safest ways to keep your child healthy. Some believe that there is no need to vaccinate their children because the risk of getting one of these infections is rare and the majority of children are vaccinated. There is a need to vaccinate children, not only in Canada but also worldwide. Certain kinds of infections like tetanus will never go away completely as the bacteria that causes it is always present in the environment. We also still see many diseases in children living in Canada even though we have safe and effective vaccines against them. These include measles, mumps, meningitis and chicken pox. Unfortunately each of these infections can result in either life threatening complications or long-term disabilities. In addition, with more and more people traveling, and new Canadians arriving in our country, there is a risk of certain infections that we previously thought were no longer an issue in Canada, reappearing.
Why can’t I let my baby’s immune system develop its own immunity, rather than having all these viruses and bacteria injected into him?
Your child cannot develop immunity to something he has never been exposed to. While your child can develop immunity if exposed to a certain disease, before developing the immunity they will likely actually get sick from the infection and have to endure the possible life-threatening complications that may occur.
Are vaccines safe?
Vaccine safety is a priority in Canada. Vaccines are one of the most researched and monitored areas of medicine. They are approved in the same way as new medicines are approved. They must go through a series of steps to show that they are safe and able to prevent the disease they target before they are approved. They are given to thousands of children who are very closely monitored before they can be approved for general use. Once approved, the vaccines continue to be monitored to make sure that they remain safe. A program called IMPACT (Immunization Monitoring Program ACTive), occurring in 12 children’s hospitals across Canada (including CHEO), reviews all hospital admissions for certain serious illnesses and collects information to see if the illness happened after vaccination. Canadian doctors and nurses must also fill out a report to Health Canada, if a patient develops a serious health problem after being vaccinated.
Is it true that my child can develop autism, brain damage, mental retardation, attention deficit disorder or learning disorders from the mercury that is in vaccines?
In a few vaccines, small amounts of thimerosol (an organic mercury compound used as a preservative) are still used as a preservative to make sure that the vaccine will not get contaminated and will continue to work. Large studies over the past ten years have proven that there is no association between thimerosal containing vaccines and autism or other brain damage. In fact, one recent study compared the rate of autism in children who had been immunized with thimerosol containing vaccines and those who had not, and found that there were slightly more children with autism amongst those who had not been vaccinated.
Secondly, many studies have recently shown that there are genetic differences in children with autism and it is now believed that this is likely the main reason why some children develop autism.
What about the side effects from immunization?
It is true that vaccinations may cause side effects. The most common ones are tenderness where the vaccination is given, mild fever and irritability. Giving acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra) before and after can help treat these side effects. Other side effects are rare and the risk of getting sick from the diseases themselves far outweighs the small risk of reacting to an immunization. Your health care provider should review both the common and rare side effects of each vaccine before your child receives it.
Is there anything else I should consider?
In the last 50 years, vaccinations have saved more Canadian lives than any other health measure. There is so much research, testing and monitoring of vaccines that parents should really trust the medical experts on this issue. You should share any concerns and questions you have about immunizations with your health care provider to ensure that you have all the information you need before making the decision to vaccinate your child. There are so many things we cannot anticipate where our children’s health is concerned but vaccinations is one of the most important things you can do to keep your child healthy.
Where else can I get information?
It is important that the immunization information you read is accurate and up to date. Below are links to several good information sites.
Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion
Public Health Agency of Canada