Mother holding her toddler

As the arguments over child vaccines continue, it’s important to understand the evidence. Here is an overview of vaccines and key reasons you should vaccinate your child.

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What Are Vaccines?

Vaccines are shots administered during childhood and beyond, sometimes at intervals. They contain antigens from weakened or dead germs to help provide immunity against a life-threatening disease. Childhood vaccines are given before a child is exposed to a disease to help prevent infection if and when they are exposed to it.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines work by imitating an infection without causing the illness. Vaccines trigger the body’s immune system to develop the same response it would to a real infection, so it can fight off the disease in the future.

Many serious diseases that have been eradicated in the U.S. are prevented with vaccines. For example, polio once affected hundreds of thousands of people, paralyzing and killing thousands. Since the vaccine was introduced, polio is largely a disease of the past.

By giving your child vaccines, you help protect them from serious, life-threatening illnesses. Vaccinating your child also boosts the immunity of the surrounding community as a whole, helping ensure that others don’t contract the disease.

The Truth About Vaccines: Deciphering Myth and Fact

Many people have begun opting out of vaccines for their children. As a result, the CDC reported nearly 400 people infected with measles in the first three months of 2019 alone, and the number of infections continues to rise because of misinformation about the safety of vaccines. Here are some common vaccine myths.

Myth: Vaccines contain toxic chemicals that can harm a child.

Fact: There are no toxic chemicals in vaccines. The only vaccine that contains a small amount of thiomersal, or mercury, is the flu vaccine. Vaccines routinely given to children do not contain these chemicals.

Myth: You don’t need to be vaccinated against diseases that are no longer common, like measles.

Fact: These diseases are no longer common because of widespread vaccination among the general population. In other countries where vaccinations are not routine, these diseases are common. If the community doesn’t get vaccinated, the diseases can resurge.

Myth: The MMR vaccine causes autism.

Fact: The study which first reported this has since been debunked. Since then, numerous studies have shown no link between vaccination and autism. Most recently, a Danish study concluded no increased risk of autism after vaccination, as noted by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Myth: Diseases prevented by vaccines aren’t that dangerous, so it’s not worth the side effects of the vaccine.

Fact: Some children may experience minor side effects from vaccines, such as mild fever, redness, swelling, or soreness. However, by and large, no serious side effects occur from vaccines. The diseases that vaccines prevent include diseases than can cause paralysis, blindness, brain injury, encephalitis, and death. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) says people are far more likely to be injured by the vaccine-preventable disease than by the vaccine itself.

Child Vaccines Are Necessary

Many diseases prevented by vaccines are rare in the United States. Yet, travelers who go to other countries where vaccination participation is low can become infected and bring nearly eradicated diseases back to the U.S., endangering unvaccinated children and communities in the United States.

The bottom line is that childhood vaccines are safe, and can save thousands — if not tens of thousands — of lives every year.

For more information, contact the Department of Pediatrics at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks No. 8 on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. All 10 of our specialties rank nationally. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.