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Is an alternative vaccination schedule better for your child?

April 15, 2015

This post was originally posted in November 2014

As we become parents, one of the issues we inevitably face is that of vaccinating our children. For many of us, this doesn’t present a major problem, but for some the decision is fraught with anxiety, questions, fear and uncertainty. With so many sources of information out there, how do we figure out what’s best for our children?

What are the reasons that we fear vaccines?

It’s hard to imagine, but a generation ago, vaccines weren’t controversial. Our doctors told us that they saved lives, and we believed them. Many parents still remembered how these fearsome diseases ravaged the bodies of their loved ones, so they were grateful to be given the opportunity to protect their children. But, times have changed.

We don’t remember the devastating paralysis brought on by polio that would forever rob our children of the chance to run and play. We don’t know the sound of our children coughing violently and struggling simply to breathe as pertussis infiltrates their lungs. These threats don’t seem like a real possibility anymore.

What we do remember, though, is hearing the horror stories parents have shared when they believe that vaccines, an innovation developed for the sole purpose of protecting us from harm, have caused significant harm for their children.

When we talk about potential dangers of vaccines, there are a few common concerns voiced by parents:

Can too many shots at one time overwhelm the immune system?

The vaccination schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) proposes that a child receive 25 different immunizations within the first 15 months of life. This provides protection against 14 serious illnesses. However, some parents worry that it’s too much too soon. Parents are concerned that a child’s young immune system will be unable to effectively cope with the onslaught of so many vaccines in such a small window of time.

Are vaccine ingredients dangerous?

Simply the names of some components of vaccine formulations are enough to give parents pause. Mercury (thimerosal). Aluminum. Formaldehyde. They sure sound scary, so are they safe?

In the world of vaccines- timing is everything.

Is there a risk of autism?

More than a decade ago, a British researcher by the name of Andrew Wakefield published a now-infamous study that linked the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) with the onset of autism. The study has since been retracted and Wakefield has been disciplined for acting “irresponsibly and dishonestly” and for falsification of the study results. However, doubt still lingers in the minds of some parents, leading them to delay childhood vaccinations until a later time or forgo them altogether.

Could an alternative vaccine schedule be the answer?

In an attempt to address the hesitation that some parents feel about vaccines, Dr. Robert Sears published The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child, which offers an alternative vaccination schedule. Dr. Sears seeks to offer concerned parents the alternative to delay certain vaccines until a later time and recommends giving no more than two vaccines at a time. The alternative schedule appeals to parents who worry that immunizations may overwhelm their child’s immune system because it spaces out the number of shots a child receives. It also appeals to those with concern about autism because they can forgo some vaccines (namely the MMR) until after the age at which autism is generally identified.

While the idea might be appealing to some, there are a few key points to consider. First, numerous studies have proven that the MMR vaccine is not responsible for causing autism. While the feelings, fears and concerns of parents are real, the risk of developing autism from vaccines absolutely is not. Delaying the life-saving benefits of a vaccine for a reason that has been proven utterly false simply doesn’t make sense.

Baby with Hand in MouthSecond, although the number of shots given within the first two years of life may seem like a lot, studies have shown that the number of immune components of all of these vaccines together is far less than what the body’s immune system can handle. In fact, your child’s immune system probably has to work harder to fight the germs they get when putting dirty fingers in their mouths at the playground than from a series of shots at their regular doctor’s appointment. (See this article for a more in-depth discussion of this topic.)

The theoretical concerns regarding the various ingredients of vaccines (aluminum or thimerosal, for example) have simply not been shown to be true in scientific studies, either.

It is important also to understand why the vaccination schedule is recommended in its current form. Extensive research is conducted to determine who is likely to get the disease, when a person is most at risk, how many people die from the illness and when the immune system is best capable of incorporating a vaccine to fight the disease. The goal is to protect a person from the disease as soon as it is safely and effectively possible. In other words, in the world of vaccines- timing is everything.

An alternative schedule serves to prolong the amount of time that a child remains unprotected from a serious and possibly fatal illness without offering any clear benefit. While some parents prefer to rely on “herd immunity” (the idea that their child is protected even if unvaccinated because everyone else around them likely has been vaccinated), there are problems with this, too. As more and more parents delay vaccines, herd immunity becomes ineffective- as evidenced by the outbreaks of pertussis and measles in recent years. It also puts those who have no choice but to rely on herd immunity because they cannot receive vaccines (children with cancer or immune diseases, for example) at serious risk.

When it comes to choosing an alternative vaccination schedule, the question you really should be asking is this: how comfortable am I playing Russian Roulette with my child’s health?

For more information on vaccines, check out these excellent resources: The Vaccine Education Center or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.