A measles outbreak has been spreading like wildfire, shining an unfavorable spotlight on the anti-vaccination movement.
And while not giving your child their shots is increasingly becoming taboo, a growing number of people are thinking about delaying some of their child’s immunizations.
That’s not a good idea, say pediatricians and public health officials. Not for measles or anything else, no matter how insignificant a threat you think the disease may pose to your child.
Shots to protect against measles and other infectious diseases, they say, should be given as directed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In an interview with Healthline, Dr. Gail Shust, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mount Sinai in New York City put it bluntly.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and people have this general notion that too many immunizations at once are overtaxing to the immune system,” she said. “But there’s no basis for that. That’s not real. It’s just kind of a general thing that people say, and for whatever reason it has stuck, and it’s preying upon the fears of parents.”
The CDC recommends a child be vaccinated for more than a dozen diseases, resulting in up to 30 shots by age 6. The shots come in batches of as many as six during the same office visit.
Shust and other doctors say they understand the concerns of parents, but long established research has determined there is no scientific evidence that several immunizations overload your child’s immune system.
And the idea that all those shots stress children out? Research shows you’re stressing them out each and every time you take them in for an immunization, whether it’s one shot or six at a time.
‘Like an Extra Handful of Sand on the Beach’
Dr. Aimee Behnke, a pediatrician for Genesis Health Group in Davenport, Iowa, shared an analogy she heard recently about exposure to vaccines.
“Germ exposure on any given day is like walking barefoot on the beach, with a germ in every grain of sand,” she said. “On vaccination day, it’s like an extra handful of sand on the beach.”
Yet she still sees parents who come in with the “Dr. Sears schedule” and tell her they want to follow his plan.
Dr. Robert Sears wrote a book in 2007 called “The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child.” Less than two years later, another doctor deconstructed Sears’ argument in a special article in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics.
Behnke admits she hasn’t read Sears’ book, but she said its references to vaccines containing harmful aluminum levels are unfounded.
“There’s more aluminum in breast milk,” she said.
One Parent’s Reason for Delaying Vaccines
Andy Burman of Davenport, Iowa, believes parents should have the right to delay their child’s vaccinations. Most schools require a child to have certain vaccinations before enrollment, and most parents who delay vaccinations do immunize their children before sending them to school.
Burman chose to delay his child’s hepatitis B vaccine, for example, which is generally recommended at 6 months and 12 months.
His reasoning? His baby is not going to “have sex without a condom, share a razor, or share a needle,” he said, all common ways of contracting hepatitis B.
And like most parents, he doesn’t want his child going through a pin-cushion treatment during office visits.
“Giving your child a shot as a parent is very unpleasant,” he said.
But Behnke said such reasoning is flawed.
First, hepatitis B can be transmitted from mother to child even if a mother tests negative for hepatitis B. This is known as a seroconversion window — the time between infection and when antibodies appear.
Second, the U.S. screens the blood supply for hepatitis B, according to the CDC, but rare transmissions still occur during blood transfusions. Contracting the disease from a blood transfusion abroad also is possible.
But the most important reason to vaccinate your child on time, even against a disease that may seem unlikely to affect them, is prevention.
“We’re trying to eradicate it,” Behnke said. “I’m not sure how public health has become a lifestyle choice.”
Measles Outbreak May Result in Vaccine Boom
Burman and his wife are both well educated and hold professional jobs. His physician agreed to delay the vaccine but had him sign a statement noting he had been advised otherwise.
Burman said he fully understands the risks associated with delayed vaccination. He finds no credibility whatsoever in the anti-vaccination movement.
Behnke said she will sometimes agree to split a vaccine into two doses and have the parent return a week later. At that time she will explain that since the child did not have a bad reaction it is important to stick with the recommended schedule. But there is always the fear among physicians that the parent won’t return with the child.
Shust said parents need to understand that, while not intentional, their decision not to vaccinate their child on time could lead to their child infecting others.
“I don’t think anybody is out to harm anybody else’s children, but healthy kids are lucky enough to be vaccinated. Other kids, who have something wrong with their immune system, cannot, and you potentially are putting those kids at risk,” she said.
Julie Falk of Geneseo, Illinois, believes that advice is sound, so much so that she had her immunocompromised, 3 pound, 11-ounce baby vaccinated every step of the way.
“I was more worried about her getting sick from not being vaccinated,” said Falk.
Her daughter Camryn was born with a rare disorder called Trisomy 18, or Edwards Syndrome. Doctors called Camryn’s disorder “incompatible with life,” Falk said, but she is now 15.
In the end, the current measles scare may become a boon for vaccine advocacy.
“Ideally you want everybody protected as soon as they can get protected. These diseases can have serious consequences, and people forget about these serious consequences because we’ve had these vaccines around for so long,” Shust said.