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Published on March 04, 2015

The Myths and Truths About Vaccines

The recent measles outbreak that began in Disneyland has done more than result in many sick children. It has spawned a debate about vaccinating our children. Physicians, politicians and parents are all weighing in with their opinions about whether kids should get vaccinated.

The reasons parents choose not to have their children vaccinate vary widely. Some believe vaccines overload their children’s systems with chemicals. Some have religious beliefs. Some think that if their child does contract an illness, their body will then be able to build up its own immunity. And some still believe a debunked study that linked autism to vaccines – this study has since been proven to have been falsified.

If you ask Dr. Steven Shapiro, the chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Abington - Jefferson Health, none of these are rational reasons to forgo vaccinations.

“There's nothing reasonable, logical or anything consistent with medical information that tells us we shouldn’t vaccinate,” he said.

According to Dr. Shapiro, immunizations save lives.

“There's no guarantee that you can be spared the severe complications [of an illness],” he said. This relates to the belief that if children get sick with an illness they haven’t been vaccinated for, they will get over the illness and build up immunity in the process. However, many of these viruses have potential severe complications, such as measles-related encephalitis. Encephalitis is the swelling of the brain – this measles complication can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or mentally challenged. It can also be fatal.

Dr. Shapiro refuted the idea that vaccines can “overload” children with chemicals.

“That is nonsense, there is no basis to that. Follow the correct immunization schedule that is setup by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).”

Vaccines don’t overload children’s immune system – they only contain a tiny fraction of the antigens babies are exposed to in their environment every single day. The immunization schedule ensures that infants and children are immunized with the right dose at the right time to help prevent them from being exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.

And then there’s herd immunity. This idea is that a community, or herd, can avoid exposure to an illness when the majority of the people in the group are vaccinated and immune. Some parents reason that if 95 percent of the people they’re surrounded by are immunized, they don’t need to be.

“That means that if you are in a group that is mostly immunized and you’re not, then it’s less likely that you will be exposed to an illness. But vaccines are 95 percent effective. So if your child isn’t immunized, is exposed to the measles, contracts the measles and comes back to the ‘herd,’ other kids are going to get sick,” Dr. Shapiro explained.

The passionate debate on whether to vaccinate your children can leave parents in the middle utterly confused as to what they should do.

For Dr. Shapiro, the answer for confused parents is simple.

“There is no rationale today for children to have to endure illnesses that we are virtually assured are treatable and removable from their day-to-day routines as the result of using vaccines,” he said.

Furthermore, he uses his own family as an example.

“Anything I would recommend to parents for a child, I have recommended to my own children and grandchildren. They’ve all been immunized,” he said.

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