Common Questions about Vaccines for Children

Through continuing advances in medical science, children are now protected from more diseases than ever before. In fact, cases of potentially serious and life-threatening conditions—including polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough—have seen a major reduction in the United States. This is largely due to the availability of safe and effective vaccines for infants, children, and adults.

Vaccines for children are vitally important. All parents are encouraged to vaccinate their children according to the childhood immunization schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Despite the proven safety and effectiveness of vaccines for children, however, some parents still have questions about the benefits and risks. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions:

Why Are So Many Vaccines Needed for Newborns and Infants?

Vaccinations can be somewhat stressful for parents but they are a necessary step in protecting infants and children. Even though their parents do their best to keep them safe and healthy, early vaccines are essential because young children are exposed to viruses and bacteria from the people around them. If an unvaccinated child is exposed to a vaccine-preventable disease, they might become seriously ill and spread the illness to others. Some infectious diseases can be life-threatening for infants and young children. What’s more, vaccines are critically important to protect others who cannot be vaccinated themselves due to severe allergies, cancer treatment, or a weakened immune system.

While the recommended immunization schedule might seem a bit daunting, remember that it is designed to help keep young children healthy and protect them against vaccine-preventable diseases. Depending on your child’s age, different strategies can be used to help make the vaccination process as easy as possible for both of you.

Do Childhood Vaccines Cause Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental condition that can affect how people learn, communicate, and interact with others. In 1998, a relatively small study suggested a link between childhood vaccines and ASD, which ignited widespread controversy on the topic. However, upon further review, the study was retracted. Since then, extensive scientific research has confirmed the safety of vaccines for children.

Can Vaccines Cause Dangerous Side Effects in Children?

Like any medication, a vaccine can potentially cause side effects. However, the most common side effects of childhood vaccines are minor and short-lived, such as pain, tenderness, swelling, and redness at the injection site. Some children also experience fatigue, headache, mild chills, and a low-grade fever. Although these side effects might be uncomfortable, they are actually positive signs that the body is working hard to build immunity to the disease.

The risk of experiencing a serious side effect of a vaccine, such as a severe allergic reaction or a neurological seizure, is low. Typically, this type of side effect would become apparent shortly after the vaccination is administered. That’s why your healthcare team will ask you to remain on site for at least 15 minutes after your child receives a vaccination. That way, they can monitor your child for an abnormal reaction and treat them immediately in the unlikely event that one should occur.

Isn’t Natural Immunity Better Than Vaccine-Induced Immunity?

It’s true that a real infection would likely produce a more robust immune response than a vaccine. The main difference is that a vaccine can provide adequate protection against a disease without first causing illness. What’s more, acquiring natural immunity can involve a high risk of serious complications.

As compared to natural immunity, vaccine-induced immunity involves a much lower risk of illness and complications. A vaccine works by imitating a real infection and uses only certain parts of the virus or bacterium that causes the disease. In responding to the imitation infection, the immune system effectively learns how to fight off—and develops immunity to—real infections in the future, without causing illness in the present.

Does a Child Need to Receive Every Recommended Vaccine?

Skipping or delaying certain vaccines is not advisable because it can leave a child vulnerable to potentially serious diseases that could otherwise be avoided. Furthermore, people who have a medical condition that precludes them from getting vaccinated must rely on others around them to protect them from exposure. And finally, if overall immunization rates should decline, vaccine-preventable diseases might once again become common threats.

About Alyssa Zwarych, MD

Dr. Zwarych is a board-certified physician who specializes in pediatrics and internal medicine. In addition to general medical care, she focuses on preventive care for infants, children, teenagers, and young adults. As a pediatrician who has been practicing for more than 15 years, she expertly oversees the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of her young patients throughout all stages of their development.

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