National Infant Immunization Week celebrates the successes of immunization programs around the country and highlights the importance of vaccines.
What's the biggest thing to know about immunizations? They are safe, and they work.
In fact, serious side effects are no more common than those from other types of medications.
Mark Sawyer, MD, is discusses the importance of following the schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) when it comes to your child's immunizations.
Remember, vaccines prevent diseases and save lives.
RadioMD Presents: Healthy Children | Original Air Date: April 22, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Mark Sawyer, MD, FAAP
Hear it from the Doctor. With expert guest from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It's Healthy Children. Now our favorite mom, Melanie Cole, MS.
MELANIE: Since 1994, hundreds of communities across the United States have joined together to celebrate the critical role that vaccinations plays in protecting our children and communities and the public health overall from vaccine preventable diseases. My guest today is Dr. Mark Sawyer. He is a professor of clinical pediatrics and pediatric infectious disease specialist at the UCSD School of Medicine.
Welcome to the show, Dr. Sawyer. So, tell us a little bit about the National Infant Immunization Week, but more importantly the importance of vaccines and why the schedule for the little babies from birth on up. Is that the way it is because people have a lot of questions about the schedule? There is a lot of controversy about alternate scheduling. Tell us why it is set the way that it is.
MARK: Well this, as you mentioned, this week, National Infant Immunization Week, has been celebrated for the last 20 years and it is a very important milestone in the annual calendar for those of us who work in vaccines because it is an opportunity to really highlight the importance of vaccines. Vaccines are one of the most important, cost-effective public health measures that have ever been developed, saving millions and probably by now billions of lives. So, it's very important that people understand the importance of vaccines. The schedule is created the way it is based really on two fundamental principles. We want to protect infants and young children as soon as they possibly can be protected and we need to give them the right number of doses in order to achieve that. So, we start right at birth with Hepatitis B vaccine because that particular infection can be transmitted at that time right at birth. We start with a number of other vaccines at two months of age because that is the youngest time at which the baby's immune system will respond well to that group of vaccines. And then, we continue to give vaccines, as most people know, during the infancy and toddler months and years to continue to add on vaccines as soon as we're able to protect them. And, as a pediatric infectious disease physician, I really celebrate the number of vaccines that we have, although I know that some parents are concerned that we're giving too many. They're really very carefully looked at and intentionally designed to give the number we give to protect against the diseases that we can prevent.
MELANIE: So, when you say they're intentionally designed and some of them are combined. This seems to be one of the things I have heard doing this show for so many years from parents that they are most concerned about, this combination of vaccines. Is it safe? Explain how safe they are, Dr. Sawyer, and how that safety is watched over constantly.
MARK: Right. The vaccines, the way they're used, are safe and we have mechanisms in place to study the safety very carefully and very scientifically. Parents who are concerned that we are overwhelming the immune system with multiple vaccines or combinations are really underestimating the power of the human body. If you think about what children are exposed to every day, out on the playground, in the swimming pools, even at home, close contact with other people. We're basically bombarded with germs on a daily basis and yet our immune system is able to handle multiple things at one time and that includes the vaccine schedule. We know vaccines are safe because we have very powerful structures in place now to study them. One of them is called the Vaccine Safety Datalink and despite the fancy title, it's basically a group of managed-care medical organizations that take care of millions of people and have computerized electronic health records. Well, we can search those records for the receipt of a vaccine and look afterward to see if there are any side effects, even rare side effects can be detected. The reason that vaccines are given when they are given is that we've determined that they are safe at those times.
MELANIE: So, when people ask you about alternate scheduling and this is National Infant Immunization Week and we have to let parents know that these are safe, just as you've said. And really, the importance. Some parents say, “Well, we haven't seen these diseases around.” Well, of course, we haven't--because of the vaccines. What do you tell them about scheduling?
MARK: Well, the trouble with an alternative vaccine schedule is simply the fact that by following any of the alternative schedules you are delaying the protection that you can provide for your infant or child. I mean it would be like saying you're not going to put a child in their car seat for the first two months of life. I'm only going to start at two months of age. And those first two months, you're leaving your child vulnerable to these infections. So, I certainly discourage the use of an alternative schedule simply on that basis that you are delaying protection. Again, we've looked at the safety of vaccines given and the patterns that they are given and combined the way they are and we can say with confidence that they are safe to give in those ways.
MELANIE: And when they talk about the fact that they haven't seen these. But they haven't really gone away, right? I mean you're still seeing infant meningitis. We just saw a big measles outbreak. Things that we think have gone away are still prevalent in other countries, aren't they?
MARK: Right. I mean the common comment to that concern of parents or thought of parents that we do not see those vaccines is that these diseases still exist in the world and are basically a plane ride away. There is really nothing to keep a case of polio from coming to the United States and spread amongst people who are not vaccinated. It hasn’t happened yet. Thank goodness. But we have seen the importation of a number of infections. Just look at the Ebola story. We can't protect that with a vaccine but nobody in their wildest dreams thought that we would have cases of Ebola in the United States just a year ago. So, these things do exist and I see them as an infectious disease physician. I see kids in the hospital with chicken pox. Just a few years ago, I saw a child die with the chicken pox. So, these things are still there and we really can't afford to let our guard down or they will come roaring back just as the measles did just this last few months in the United States.
MELANIE: And speaking of the measles, that is a nasty disease. Not only is it a nasty disease with many complications that can happen, but people think it's “just” the measles. And really, it's pretty serious. So, when you are really trying to get people to vaccinate and this is one of those vaccinations, MMR, that's caused so many controversies. What do you tell them about the fact that the diseases are worse than the vaccine?
MARK: Yeah. I think you can say that about the entire vaccine schedule. The groups that put together the schedule and make the recommendations carefully look at the risk from the disease and the risk from the vaccine and weigh which one is worse. And in every case, the vaccines that are recommended are recommended because the risk from the disease is much greater than the risk from the vaccine. So, that's true for measles. That's true for chicken pox. And we do have to realize that by letting our immunization levels drop we will start to see outbreaks of disease again.
MELANIE: And for little babies, Dr. Sawyer, these vaccines are safe. You've said that, but there are a few little side effects. Now, we only have about a minute and ten seconds left or so, so reiterate for us the safety and maybe even just the little red patch around the injection site, just the minimal safety concerns that parents may have.
MARK: I mean, I am not trying to say that there are no side effects from vaccines. There are, but again, the risk of those side effects is lower than risk of severe outcome from the disease. You mentioned measles. Measles kills between one and two children per thousand who get it. So, if we've already had 150 cases in the United States this year, if we get to a thousand, the chances are we are going to see a child die from the measles. So, the side effects that are common are very minor. They are, just as you said, red spots at the site of the vaccine; a sore arm; a little bit of crankiness and maybe a low grade fever with certain vaccines Those side effects are very short lived, usually just 24 hours. And the rate of serious side effects, in general, is on the order of one in a million. So these are things that are extremely rare and parents are just not going to see those side effects.
MELANIE: Well, you certainly heard it from the expert put so well. That these vaccine preventable diseases can be prevented and it's so important in this National Infant Immunization Week, if you have any questions to ask your pediatrician to find out about why the schedule is put forth the way that it is. About how important these vaccines are to not only you and your children but to all of the public health.
You're listening to Healthy Children right here on RadioMD.
Thanks for listening and stay well.