It’s no secret that whether to vaccinate babies and children or not is one of the most highly-debated parenting topics. Those for vaccinations say that they have helped eradicate highly contagious diseases and protect children from getting others. Those against vaccinations say that their ingredients can be harmful and that the government shouldn’t be allowed to force parents to get them.
Science backs up both claims, so it’s impossible to tell who’s correct. Instead, we argue or agree to disagree. The truth is, both sides are correct in their claims. Whether or not vaccinations are the best choice for you and your baby should be your opinion and no one else’s.
Still, parents are sensitive about this hot-button issue, and with good reason. As the government attempts to mandate vaccinations as much as constitutionally possible, some parents fight for their constitutional rights regarding their own children’s health.
Some information you may read about vaccinations are simply scare tactics from both sides of the spectrum. Other information includes fact-based, scientific research. To make an informed decision about vaccinations, talk to trusted medical professionals and complete your own thorough research.
The 16 bits of information about vaccinations in this article present both sides of the equation to help you learn more about the possible pros and cons of vaccinating your child. Take them for what they’re worth: simple vaccination information. You have the power to make your own informed decisions on what’s best for your child.
16 Do: They Can Save Lives
The idea behind vaccinations is that they can protect people on both a small and large scale, essentially saving lives all over the world. Some international travels require you to be up to date on specific immunizations to protect yourself and other countries from diseases. This is especially important if you’re visiting underdeveloped countries without access to public healthcare.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, vaccinations given to babies and children are between 90% and 99% effective in preventing diseases. And, it’s estimated that about 2.5 million are protected against disease every year, thanks to vaccines. Diseases that used to wipe out populations are now rarely even heard of, and many medical professionals and organizations believe that immunizations are the reason we no longer see many of these diseases in children and adults.
The CDC estimates that about 732,000 children in America were saved from death between 1994 and 2014 because of the rise in vaccinations during this period.
15 Don’t: They Have Side Effects
Despite the health benefits vaccinations can have, parents worry about their possible short-term side effects. Your doctor’s office usually provides you with a list of possible common side effects to the vaccines your child is getting at his current visit (and if they don’t, ask for one!). Although many are harmless, some may make you wonder what, exactly, is in a vaccine to possibly cause so many side effects if they’re so safe?
Some more mild side effects of certain vaccines include diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, fever, or a reddish area around the injection site. But, more serious side effects of some vaccines are scary: stomach or intestine inflammation, bloody urine or stool, allergic reactions, high fever, seizures, cancers at the injection site, and permanent brain damage.
Although the CDC and other medical organizations defend the side effects by stating that any medication can have side effects, some of the side effects of immunizations are scary enough for parents to not want to take the risk.
14 Do: Some Ingredients Are Safe
The CDC continues to assure parents that vaccinations are completely safe, despite possible side effects. According to the CDC, vaccinations do contain chemicals and small amounts of the virus they defend against to help build the immune system. But, they’re all provided in safe amounts that have been proven effective on children for generations, all over the world.
Some of the safe additives you’ll find in vaccines include suspending fluid, like sterile water or saline, preservatives to store the vaccine without altering it, and enhancers to boost the efficacy of the vaccine.
The CDC also recommends asking your pediatrician for a handout that lists all of the ingredients of your child’s vaccines. They are required to provide you with one if you ask - so you can, and should exercise that right. If you’re concerned about any ingredients, ask your pediatrician to explain it and do your own research before allowing your child to get the vaccine.
13 Don’t: Some Ingredients Are Not
One of the biggest arguments against vaccinations lies in the questionable ingredients of vaccines. Aluminum, thimerosal, formaldehyde, and mercury are among the most concerning for parents.
According to the CDC, aluminum is an adjuvant that promotes effectiveness of the vaccine. Thimerosal is a preservative that contains mercury and helps inhibit the growth of bacteria within a resting vaccine. Formaldehyde is also a type of preservative that inactivates bacteria in the vaccine, with most of the chemical being removed before the vaccine is packaged.
However, many parents aren’t quick to trust the CDC’s stance on these chemicals. The American Academy of Pediatrics has advised the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, although it also has not confirmed any link between the chemical and health issues in children. Those against vaccinations often argue that there is enough scientific evidence to suggest a link between these chemicals and the high amount of neurological and immune disorders we see in children today, like autism and severe allergies.
12 Do: They’re Required By All 50 States
Although it’s true that the government can’t require anyone to vaccinate their children, it’s also true that, if you want your child to enter public school, they have to be up-to-date on their required vaccines. So, technically, your state won’t make you vaccinate, but you better be ready to homeschool or pay for a school that doesn’t require them, or obtain a religious or medical excuse to avoid vaccinating.
According to ProCon.org, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) currently recommends 29 doses of 9 different vaccinations for newborns and children up to 6 years old. The diseases the vaccinations protect against include Hepatitis B, rotavirus, poliovirus, pertussis, and more.
Most preschools and daycares are also requiring vaccinations, so you may not even be able to put your child in daycare while you work if he’s not vaccinated. However, it’s important to note that you can work with your pediatrician to change your child’s immunization schedule if you feel it’s necessary. Just remember, schools and daycares will require certain immunizations by specific ages.
11 Don’t: The Government Shouldn’t Infringe Upon Parents’ Rights
Many parents against vaccinations believe that it’s their choice – and their choice only – to vaccinate their children or not. The government should not have a say in their children’s health.
And it’s a very valid point. How can the government create blanket laws for healthcare when the healthcare needs of the population vary so greatly? And, although the government can’t yet fully control vaccinations, it stretches the boundaries in whatever ways it can to make not vaccinating your children an inconvenience.
However, most states allow you, as a parent or guardian, to provide a medical, religious, or personal statement against vaccinating your child to your child’s school during the enrolling process. With this statement, you can argue your position against vaccinating. It may be a slight inconvenience, but it will allow you to enroll your child if the school accepts it as a valid statement. A medical or religious statement may prove to be the most effective.
10 Do: Adverse Reactions Are Extremely Rare
Although many believe vaccinations can be extremely harmful, especially to children, there isn’t much scientific evidence to back up the claims. In fact, scientific evidence leans more toward proving how rare serious adverse reactions to immunizations are, with thousands of studies already completed and more currently underway.
According to ProCon.org, the most common reaction to vaccines is anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction that can cause one to have difficulty breathing, chest tightness, vomiting, rash, and painful swelling. This most common side effect still only occurs in one per hundreds of thousands to millions of vaccinations.
Even combination immunizations, like the Mumps, Measles, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine have been used safely since the 1940s and rarely cause any serious reactions. Neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta has stated that “you are 100 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine that protects you against measles.”
9 Don’t: Still, Adverse Reactions Can Happen – And They’re Scary
Just because adverse reactions from vaccines don’t happen often, doesn’t mean they don’t happen at all. The CDC admits that all vaccines carry the risk of a severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, or other side effects. Anaphylaxis, if not treated immediately, can even be fatal. The risk of a vaccine causing this reaction to a child is enough to make some parents turn against vaccinating their children altogether.
In 2007, a boy named Ian was born to elated parents. He was given the Hepatitis B vaccine at 7 days old before leaving the hospital. Ian was born with a somewhat compromised immune system, and the Hepatitis B vaccine can cause reactions with compromised immune systems like his. The same night, his severe allergic reaction began. By the time he reached 47 days old, Ian passed away.
His parents later found out that hundreds of similar cases had been reported to the government, all involving babies who had been given the same vaccine and developed an allergic reaction within 24 hours.
8 Do: They Help “Protect The Herd”
Pro-vaccinators say that vaccines help “protect the herd." What does this mean exactly? One of the main reasons vaccines were created was to prevent disease outbreak to save lives. The idea behind this is known as herd immunity, which means that the more people vaccinated, the better a community is protected from an outbreak of the disease.
The herd immunity mentality also suggests that the small population of those who aren’t vaccinated – such as young infants or pregnant women – still benefit from protection against the disease because those who are vaccinated help protect them, almost like a barrier. Basically, the risk of a disease spreading is much lower in an area where vaccinated people is higher.
This is why underdeveloped countries tend to be more at risk for wide disease outbreaks, like measles and poliovirus. In developed countries with better access to healthcare and immunizations, these diseases are virtually unheard of.
7 Don’t: Natural Immunity Is Safer And More Effective
Although vaccines can create a faster immune defense than natural immunity, those against vaccines argue that your natural immune system, when given the time to build, is more effective against disease than vaccines. They also believe that vaccines can interfere with the natural immunity process, essentially making our immune systems weaker.
And, there is some evidence to prove some truth behind these statements. The Mayo Clinic suggests that a natural infection can create better immunity than vaccinations. Most vaccinations, instead, provide your body with a small amount of a live infection combined with ingredients that may be toxic, forming somewhat of an artificial, harmful immunity.
Several studies have been conducted on the subject, and some have found that natural infections, like the flu, can cause a stronger, lifelong antibody, compared with a more temporary version from vaccines. A 2011 study, for example, found that after 6 months, more naturally-affected flu patients still had the antibody in their system than those who were vaccinated.
6 Do: Vaccines Eradicated Several Diseases
Do you ever wonder why humans are no longer affected by the deadly diseases you read about in history books, like malaria and smallpox? You can thank vaccines, which have helped to eradicate several diseases that were once fatal to large populations.
Smallpox has been completely eradicated, with no known or recent cases anywhere in the world. Unicef estimates that this, alone, has saved about 5 million lives each year. Other diseases that vaccines have significantly helped control include polio, measles, tetanus, diphtheria, yellow fever, and whooping cough. Tuberculosis and Hepatitis B are moving toward being better controlled because of vaccines, too.
Because of the immunity vaccines provide to large populations, it’s estimated that about 3 million children’s lives are saved every year, thanks to vaccines. It’s possible that, in the near future, even more deadly diseases will be virtually non-existent because of vaccines, like HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and acute respiratory infections.
5 Don’t: Most Targeted Diseases Are Harmless
Even with the evidence proving vaccinations have saved lives, those against vaccines argue that many of the targeted diseases of vaccines would be harmless in today’s world, thanks to the advancement of healthcare and medicine.
Chickenpox is one of the mentioned diseases that causes little harm to children. It’s true - although it’s incredibly uncomfortable, chickenpox can often be controlled with plenty of rest, anti-itch lotions, and fever-reducing medication. Rotavirus, a highly contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea, usually subsides in a couple of days. The only treatment typically needed is hydration and rest.
Even two diseases that ran rampant decades ago and caused severe illness in children, measles and rubella, are not as serious anymore. Measles causes rashes and cold-like symptoms, and is usually treated with rest and fluids. Rubella causes rash and fever that fever-reducing medication can normally treat.
Also, within the United States, certain diseases like Polio haven’t been in existence in decades, yet we still vaccinate against it.
4 Do: They Are Especially Beneficial To Babies, The Elderly, And Pregnant Women
Those with the most compromised immune systems – babies, the elderly, and pregnant women – can especially benefit from vaccinations and those around them being vaccinated. These populations are extremely vulnerable to disease and infections because their bodies have weakened immune systems.
The CDC notes that the flu vaccine is especially important for these populations to get every year, since the virus can have a significant reaction in those with already weakened immune systems.
Pregnant women and babies aren’t able to get vaccinated for certain diseases, like measles. Pregnant women can’t be vaccinated with the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine because all three viruses can cause severe birth defects or even miscarriage. In these cases, herd immunity from vaccines can help protect them against catching these viruses.
Elderly people with diabetes can benefit from getting the Hepatitis B vaccine, otherwise they're at greater risk for certain cancers or liver failure. For those with diabetes who are already susceptible to liver damage from the disease, Hepatitis B can be fatal or cause serious health problems.
3 Don’t: They Can Cause Autism
One of the biggest concerns for parents in more recent years regarding the use of vaccines lies in whether or not vaccines cause autism. Even scientific studies can’t seem to come to a conclusion about whether there is a connection between autism and vaccines, leaving parents concerned about the spike in autism cases over the last decade and how it may relate to vaccinations.
The main concern lies with the MMR vaccine. Some studies lean toward suggesting links between the vaccine and a rise in autism in recent years. However, nothing has yet shown a scientific link.
In 1998, a study was conducted that suggested a link between the vaccine and autism. The study was eventually proved to be fraudulent. Since then, celebrities and parents have spoken out against the vaccine, suggesting that their own children developed autism partly because of vaccines.
Due to the controversy over the link between autism and vaccines, scientists and medical professionals, and organizations are continuing to research a possible link, which means that it hasn’t yet been disproven fully and can still be cause for concern.
2 Do: They Can Protect For A Lifetime
Although not all vaccines can protect people for a lifetime, like the flu shot, some have the ability to provide lifelong protection. Once you’ve completed your initial vaccine and its booster schedule, you are essentially protected against some diseases for the rest of your life.
The vaccines that offer lifelong immunity include smallpox, polio, and measles. Other vaccines, like whooping cough and chickenpox, are mostly effective long-term, but the antibodies from the vaccines can wear off over time, making you susceptible later in life.
However, the recommended immunization schedule gets updated as needed for this very reason. As vaccinations change and improve and more becomes known about them, medical professionals change the schedules for boosters, and sometimes add more in when a child reaches the pre-teen age. This can provide you with better immunity against certain diseases for a longer period of time. In 2006, the CDC for example, recommended a 2nd chickenpox shot between the ages of 4 and 6 to provide a longer-lasting immunity.
1 Don’t: They Have Unknown Long-Term Effects
We have a lot of evidence for how well vaccines have helped in controlling and eradicating certain diseases. Still, there isn’t much evidence explaining the possible long-term effects of vaccines, especially those that have been developed more recently.
Gardasil, for example, is the vaccination for human papillomavirus (HPV), recommended for girls at least 9 years old. Approved by the FDA in 2006, the vaccine is only just over 10 years old, and some worry about its safety since it hasn’t been used for decades like more common vaccines.
There have been some cases suggesting a link between Gardasil and neurological complications. An Australian woman who received the recommended schedule of Gardasil vaccinations began having severe back pains and convulsions, eventually losing her ability to walk, and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as a result of the vaccine.
If you have concerns over the safety of vaccines, newer ones especially, talk to your child’s pediatrician. You may be able to revise the schedule and skip non-required vaccinations altogether.