Childhood vaccines safe, says Institute of Medicine

A new study by the IOM says childhood vaccines are safe. Photo: Andres Rueda

SILVER SPRING, Md, February 9, 2013 – From the time vaccines were first developed, there have been people who have been skeptical about them, but they have gained broad acceptance in modern times.

However, in 1998 that acceptance hit a snag when Andrew Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet claiming that vaccines were the cause of autism. Although authorities later proved the evidence in Wakefield’s research was fabricated, there is still a large portion of the population who doubt the safety of vaccines. Some maintain the concern about the fabricated link to autism; others worry about their children contracting the diseases they are being vaccinated against.

AP photo.


A common argument against being required to have their children vaccinated that anti-vaccine proponents use is that “if you are so sure that vaccines work, why worry if my child is not vaccinated? You child would not get the disease any way.” This argument discounts the fact that there are still thousands of children who are not vaccinated every year for legitimate medical reasons. Children with medical conditions, such as leukemia, cancer and HIV, or those with an egg allergy, cannot receive the vaccines and are still susceptible to the disease.

Healthy children who do not receive protection against the list of diseases that have vaccines available then put those sick children at risk. Also, infants who may be too young to receive some of the vaccines may still be susceptible to disease your child is carrying because he is not vaccinated, or a disease whose total protection is spread out over multiple shots across the 24-month vaccination schedule may still transfer from your child. Disease is always more serious for infants since their immune systems are still developing and cannot not adequately fight off all infections.

Additionally, your child is not safe from the disease just because you presume everyone else is vaccinated. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), about 90% of children receive the recommended course of shots to protect them against 14 pathogens, which leave 10% unvaccinated. There is also the complication that the same vaccines are not available or used in other countries, and if your children are exposed to the disease from someone carrying it from abroad, they can contract it as well. In fact, according to the CDC 90% of the cases of measles in 2011 were contracted from travel abroad or contact with someone who had contracted the disease as a result of that travel.

The vaccine schedule contains protections against many diseases that in the recent past have caused serious problems and death. Diseases such as polio and diphtheria have become all but non-existent thanks to vaccines. But according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), measles, a disease that had been kept in check for years thanks to the MMR vaccine, is on the rise in the US. In the most current data available, the CDC reported that in 222 people in the US contracted the measles in 2011, up from the median 60 people, an almost four-fold increase and the largest outbreak since 2000 when the disease was declared eliminated, meaning (defined by the CDC as “interruption of year-round endemic measles transmission”). Of those infected, 86% had been unvaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status.

Whooping cough is another disease that is seeing an increase. In data collected by the CDC, the incidence of whooping cough has been increasing since the early 2000s when worry over the safety of vaccines started getting more attention following the fraudulent 1998 report by Wakefield. The increase in whooping cough has gotten to the point that 49 states and the District of Columbia showed increases in 2012 over 2011, with 21 states having more than a three-fold increase. Incidence for 2011 was the highest among infants, then in children 7-10, followed by 13-14. It is important to note that the final recommended shot of Dtap, which contains the whooping cough vaccine, is at age 4-6 and that a booster is recommended at age 11-12. Failure to get these shots may explain the boost in incidence in children slightly older than the recommended vaccination ages as the protection from earlier doses faded.  The IMO says that states that make it easy to exempt children from vaccinations had a 90% higher rate of whooping cough in 2011.

Because of the concern over vaccinations and the increase in the number of parents refusing the shots for their children, Health and Human Services asked the IOM to conduct a study to address the safety and other concerns about vaccines. It reviewed all the medical literature available, and the result is the most comprehensive evaluation of the immunization schedule for birth to 2 years conducted to date. The study, released on January 16, 2013, “uncovered no evidence of major safety concerns associated with adherence to the childhood immunization schedule.”

The committee went on to say, “there is ample evidence that not vaccinating children is putting them at grave risk.” Consider that most current pediatricians have never had to deal with polio or diptheria thanks to vaccinations and would be not readily prepared to deal with a case today. Look at the rise in whooping cough, and consider the deaths resulting from the outbreaks. In the 2011 outbreak of measles, 32% were hospitalized, and 12% of those developed pneumonia as a result of the disease.

To ensure that vaccines are as safe as possible, the CDC has managed a Vaccine Safety Datalink since 1990 designed to, “monitor immunization safety and address the gaps in scientific knowledge about rare and serious events following immunization.”  After reaffirming that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the current vaccination schedule is unsafe, the IOM report goes on to say that there is an increased need to communicate this safety to the public. So, talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns about the vaccinations that are recommended for your child. They can give you information about the shots and about the diseases they are designed to stop to protect your child’s health.

Talk with your pediatrician about any concerns your may have. Photo courtesy of the CDC.



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Brighid Moret

Brighid is a freelance writer and first time mother.  She holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.  Find her on Facebook @Brighid Moret


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