Answers to common vaccine questions

Here are some of the most common questions I encounter regarding vaccines and my answers.  I’m writing this post, from a parent to a parent, because I want to equip you with accurate information to protect your child.

We give so many vaccines now and it seems like we are constantly adding more.  Isn’t this too much for my child’s immune system?  Isn’t it antigen overload? 

The immune system is very complex, with an entire field of immunology dedicated to its study.  Here is a short answer: If an infant gets 11 vaccines at once, it would use about 0.1% of her immune system. Quite simply, your child can be exposed to more antigens by playing on the carpet.

Isn’t it better to be exposed to the disease and develop a “natural immunity?”

I get this question mostly in regards to the chicken pox (varicella) vaccine.  An illness many parents remember getting as children.  My question in response is: why make your child suffer?  Chicken pox is miserable, with fever, cough, and awful itching and possible permanent scarring.  There are real complications from chicken pox including pneumonia, hospitalization, and deaths every year from this virus. True, initially we thought one vaccine was enough to bolster immunity; then, we later found a booster was necessary. Research has shown that one dose of the vaccine is 85% effective and two doses is 97-100% effective in preventing chicken pox.  And, by avoiding the real disease and virus by getting the vaccine, we can also prevent shingles.  And no one wants shingles – ouch!

Do the vaccines have mercury in them?

The only vaccine with mercury (or thimersol) is the influenza vaccine in multi-dose containers.  It contains less mercury than a tuna fish sandwich.  If you are still concerned, opt for the single dose vial mercury free preparation. Here is a great website with info about vaccine additives.

Do you support an alternative vaccination schedule?

Most physicians are willing to have a conversation about vaccine schedules with patients’ families.  Our goal is to establish a physician-patient partnership and ensure that all concerns are addressed and that the parents are confident with the collaborative medical decision.  I encourage patients to bring specific questions and the sources they have read to their doctor.

From the physician standpoint, we are concerned about unnecessarily delaying potentially life-saving vaccines. In addition, spacing out shots leads to additional visits to the doctor’s office, more pokes, and thus more trauma for the child and parents.  We are also concerned because the CDC vaccine schedule has been studied specifically for the immunization intervals recommended.  About half of parents who choose an alternative schedule make it up themselves and there is no scientific basis for their methods.  We don’t have any studies documenting the safety and effectiveness of alternative schedules.  Some patients rely on Dr. Robert Sears’ vaccine schedule, although even Dr. Sears himself states there is no research behind it.  Here is a good article, The Problem With Dr. Bob’s Alternative Vaccine Schedule, for patients who are considering his schedule.

Aren’t these diseases obsolete?

With recent news that a child with contagious measles was amongst 200,000 people at Super Bowl Village, we are reminded that these diseases and the threat of spread are real.  California reported over 9000 cases of whooping cough in 2010.  We have had pockets of outbreaks of other vaccine preventable diseases in the U.S. over the last year.  In our global community, other diseases are just a plane flight away, such as measles (30,000 cases confirmed in Europe in 2011), and polio.

What do you do for your children?

Both of my children receive all their immunizations according to the recommended schedule.  The more immunizations they receive, the more relieved I become that they are protected.

Erica Armstrong is a family physician who blogs at Mommy and Daddy MDs, Peanut and Sweet Pea.

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  • Anonymous

    Let the debate begin…

    • Anonymous

      There should be no debate the science is clear and have proven the value of vaccinations.

  •!/CloseCall_MD Close Call

    Would you want your kids or grandkids in school with unvaccinated children?

    God, no.

  • Josh Hughes

    If you have young Children, please research vaccinations from different sources before giving them to your children. This article is nothing more than the information on the label, written by a system trying to sell vaccinations – all the love to the author, but she is just speaking of what she has been taught. She is an educated human, just as full of mistakes as the rest of us.Find out for yourself what the truth is, after measuring the risk, THEN go forward with a decision

    • Erica Armstrong, MD

      Yes, I agree parents should be informed and they want to be!  My article is a starting point.  Here are some other reputable websites:

  •!/CloseCall_MD Close Call

    If you LOVE your Children, please google vaccines as much as you CAN!  The information you will get will be life-saving!  It will save your life! And your Child’s!

    Pediatricians make SERIOUS money on vaccines!  Cha-ching!  Rolling in that vaccine bling.  Jabbin’ those chicken arms!  

    I heard from my cousin that a flu shot can turn you into an annoying cheerleader that walks backwards! No doubt!

    Do Your research!

    When you enroll your precious Child in daycare or school, let all the OTHER parents know you have an unvaccinated Child!  They’ll think you’re awesome and totally want to be your friend and have playdates!  Especially the ones with newborns! Yeah!

    Get educated!  Organize a chicken pox party through facebook in just 5 minutes! 

    The truth is out there!  Measles don’t happen here in America.  We’re America!  That’s right… American!  Measles is for Frenchies!  and Europeans!  YEAH!

    • Erica Armstrong, MD

      Close Call, I’m pretty sure I’m sensing sarcasm here.  Nonetheless, I thought the financial argument might come up so I wanted to address that.  Most physician offices actually lose money by providing vaccines.  I follow the medical economics journal and have seen a few articles regarding this financial loss.  Here is an article from CNN that talks about this.  There have been a few studies published as well that can be found with a pubmed search.  Thanks for sparking more discussion!

    • Anonymous

      I love all 5 of my kids and all 5 grand kids and they all got their vaccinations on schedule. At first I thought and hoped your post was tongue in cheek but I fear that you are just a crank.

      •!/CloseCall_MD Close Call

        It’s amazing how a few unnecessarily Capitalized words can make a post sound raving mad. =) 

        • Anonymous

          Glad it was the former. Difficult to tell in these little posts.

  • madfoot

    Terrific post. I would also add the number of deaths from whooping cough as well, since many seem to think it is another harmless disease.

  • Erica Armstrong, MD

    madfoot, thank you!  Yes, funny you said that because that was my husband’s recommendation to add to the post as well.  I will get some numbers from the CDC.  I had so much to say about this topic I had to leave some things out!

    • Erica Armstrong, MD

      Here are some CDC stats: In California alone, there were 10 infant deaths in 2010.  There is also information about the severity of whooping cough which, even in adults, will give a prolonged duration of cough aka “100 days of cough.”

  • Sunjay R Devarajan

    I love it.  I could completely picture you delivering these messages verbatim to your concerned, perhaps skeptical patients.  Totally effective!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this sane rational post. I’m from Washington state where babies have died from whopping cough because someone didn’t have their child immunized. We need herd immunity to protect the most vulnerable of us.

  • Anonymous

    The three public health initiatives developed and made widespread in the 20th Century that, alone, prevented more deaths in the US and elsewhere from disease were, (1) readily available clean drinking water, (2) pushing hand-washing and proper disposal of waste products, and (3) vaccines for infectious diseases.  Not necessarily in that order. 

    Those who wish to return to the 19th Century are welcome to do that, but they do so not only at great risk to themselves, but also to the rest of the population – hence the at least lip-service to the concepts of isolation (aka quarantine) and mandatory vaccination.

  • Anonymous

    My observations and instincs tell me that this isue is far from black and white. The discussion is impossible to have because those who vaccinate and those that don’t both love their children so dearly. To admit that you have made the wrong call is far beyond most parents and this is why debate will always exist. My Question is, if all the science concludes that the benefits outway the risks why give people a choice? there are laws governing society and people may diagree with them but must adhere. Governments world wide won’t make vaccinations compulsary, ask yourself why that is.

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