Immunizations - this is a topic that causes a great deal of concern for many parents - both new, as well as experienced.
There are a few questions parents commonly ask regarding immunizations.
1. Why are there so many immunizations for children?
The great success that health organizations have had in eradicating polio in most areas of the world has encouraged researchers to develop vaccines against as many preventable diseases as possible. Immunizations, like all areas of medicine, are not perfect. However, the significant positive effects on the general health of the world cannot be ignored. The technology exists to develop vaccines against many previous scourges of humanity.
There are many people who still remember the devastating effect polio had on every community. Older physicians remember the almost daily impact of HIB disease during their time as a resident in pediatric training. These are diseases that many doctors today will never see because of the profound success of worldwide immunization programs.
2. Why do children need immunizations against hepatitis?
Food and Drug Administration
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institutes of Health
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Academy of Family Practice
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Hepatitis is a significant disease of the liver that can be prevented relatively easily with the three-shot regimen for Hep-B and the two-shot regimen for Hep-A. Parents feel that the likelihood of exposure to hepatitis A, or B, for their child, is minimal. This is a reasonable thought by parents. However, the ease of preventing a disease this significant, with a simple immunization, seems to dictate prevention. Especially since the hepatitis B is now included in many poly-vaccines. There are also new immunizations which will include both hepatitis A and hepatitis B in a single injection.
3. Why do children need immunizations against human papillomavirus - HPV?
HPV prevention is another disease that parents have many questions about. HPV is the virus that causes genital warts, as well as 80-90 percent of the cervical cancer that we see. Parents ask, ''Why does my child need prevention at 10 years of age? She is not sexually active.'' The HPV vaccine is presently the only preventive vaccine we have against any cancer. The prevalence of HPV, in both males and females, is continuing to increase at a dramatic rate. The ability to provide prevention against this major cancer dictates early immunization. The vaccine has recently been approved for males, and we will begin HPV immunizations for boys in our office soon.
4. Don't immunizations cause autism?
The question of immunizations and their relationship to the incidence of autism is one loaded with emotion. The initial studies upon which these claims were made have since been shown to be in error, and retracted. There is no evidence from the many researchers in this area that the immunizations themselves, or the mercury that was contained in the immunization preservatives, have anything to do with autism. (Mercury is no longer used as the immunizations preservative, regardless of the fact that it was not responsible for any untoward reactions.)
5. Won't so many immunizations at one time overpower a child's immune system?
Parents often worry that children are required to have too many immunizations at one time. They are concerned that the child's immune system will be overwhelmed. Researchers have looked at this question specifically. Each and every day children are exposed to numerous antigens or germs in their environment. It is estimated that each day children confront and defeat more than 20,000 antigens. The total number of antigens they deal with in the total vaccine schedule is approximately 150 antigens. They will not be overwhelmed by the number of antigens they receive in the standard immunization visit.
6. Could children receive immunizations on a different schedule, so they don't receive so many shots at a time?
Spreading out the immunization schedule is often requested by parents. The immunizations are scheduled to maximize the protection for children. Certain diseases are predominant during certain ages; so giving the immunization prior to that time is important. Certain immunizations do not work as well if given too early; so they too need to be given at a certain age. The alternative schedules suggested by some Internet websites help allay parental fears regarding ''overwhelming the immune system,'' but are unnecessary, and extend the ''unprotected'' time for children. There is simply no need to use an alternative schedule.
For now the current schedule of immunizations, as well as the present immunization combinations, work very well. We continue to encourage following the recommended immunization schedule as closely as possible.
Hanaa Abou Ouf, M.D., Ramadevi Sankaran, M.D., and Richard P. Votta, M.A., M.D., FAAP, are affiliated with Trimark Pediatrics.