You may have heard a few weeks ago that a special court ruled against the 4,800 families who claimed vaccinations caused autism in their children. Soon after, CNN’s Campbell Brown urged all parents to go vaccinate their children. Fuel to the fire, baby.
Well, it just so happens that I was in the middle of writing a follow up post to My Baby the Pincushion: Vaccinations, as requested by one of my blog followers. Perfect timing!
Now even though I am *cough* a“board certified physician,”I’d prefer to let my colleague, the esteemed Dr. Robert W. Sears, give you his take on the vaccinations from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Recommended Vaccine Schedule. Here’s a summary of the sections titled “The Way I See It” from his Vaccine Book.
HIB (Haemophilus Influenzae Type B)
Dr. Sears says that the HIB vaccine is one of the safest out there. HIB is a “bad bug” that can cause serious illnesses such as meningitis, blood and bone infections, and pneumonia. Although HIB is not very common anymore (about 25 cases a year), he places it high on his list of necessary vaccinations. PedVaxHIB brand of the vaccine contains aluminum. You can try to stagger vaccines that contain aluminum if you are worried about too much at once.
Pc, a fairly common bacterium, causes a wide range of illnesses that can be mild to severe (cold symptoms, ear infections, pneumonia, meningitis). It is often found in daycares, schools, and at the grocery store. Unless you never set foot outside of the house, Dr. Sears guarantees you and your kids will encounter this germ. He rates this as a fairly important vaccine. Contains aluminum.
DTaP (Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertussis)
Diptheria is a very severe throat infection which, luckily, is not that common today. Tetanus, also known as lockjaw (because the jaw muscles are the first to become paralyzed), is a serious infectious disease caused by bacterium that lives in soil and on dirty, rusty metal and unsterilized needles. Lastly, Pertussis is commonly known as whooping cough. The bacterium that infects the upper lungs can cause damage to the lining of the upper lungs and throat.
Of the three diseases, Dr. Sears says that pertussis is the more common and problematic. Unfortunately, there isn’t a pertussis only vaccination. So, parents are stuck with either a tetanus-only vaccine or a diptheria-tetanus vaccine. In a nutshell, he considers this an important vaccination. Again, some of the brands contain aluminum. Also, some have very small traces of mercury.
Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease, which can also be transmitted through blood/fluid contact in more rare circumstances – blood contact through cuts, infected mother passing to her baby during labor. Dr. Sears concludes that this is an important vaccine from a public health perspective, but is not the most critical of the other infant vaccines. It can be postponed to the teenage years, where the possibility of contracting a STD is much higher. Contains aluminum and trace amounts of formaldehyde and mercury.
Rotavirus is an intestinal virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea, with the initial stages similar to the stomach flu. It is usually transmitted by contact with stools or saliva. This is one virus easily spread in daycares. One clue that an infant may have rotavirus is that the diarrhea lasts a few days to even weeks. Dr. Sears considers this a fairly important vaccine even though the fatalities are low in the US. This is a live-virus vaccine given in liquid form. There are some icky ingredients – monkey kidney cells, fetal cow blood, and live organisms. Parents should be more cautious getting this vaccine when their infant has a weakened immune system.
Polio is a virus that is transmitted like the cold or intestinal flu, and it can only be caught once in a lifetime. Most cases are symptom-free, but 1 in every 250 cases develops muscle weakness and paralysis. Former president FDR is the most famous reminder of polio at its worst. Polio “was eradicated from the United States more than twenty years ago and isn’t even found on this half of the planet.” More ingredients from the funky train – monkey kidney cells, cow serum and human blood proteins. Dr. Sears considers this an important vaccination from a public health standpoint.
Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR)
Measles, Mumps and Rubella are all viruses that cause similar symptoms – fever and rash. With measles, there may also be runny nose and cough. The most recognizable sign of mumps is the swelling of the saliva glands in the cheeks. And rubella also has mild symptoms that often go unnoticed, but can be confirmed with a blood test (like the other two).
Today, measles is not considered to be serious, where most cases pass in a week or so without much trouble. Mumps in children is also fairly benign. However, it is most serious in teens and adults. While rubella is thought to be a mild virus, “we vaccinate kids to protect pregnant teachers and mothers and their soon-to-be-born babies.” Dr. Sears also notes that rubella is “most risky to a fetus during the first trimester and only somewhat risky in the second trimester. There is no risk during the third trimester.”
Note that this is a live-virus vaccine. You should wait to get this vaccine for your child if he/she has a weakened immune system. Dr. Sears has posted a really helpful update on the MMR vaccinations on his website. Before 2009, there was an option to receive each vaccination separately. However, this has been discontinued by Merck (the maker of the individual vaccines). Do I smell a dirty conspiracy? Are parents being forced into an all or nothing decision? Please read his update for available options.
Chickenpox (Varicella Vaccine)
The chickenpox virus causes fever and spots all over the body. Once a person has been infected, the virus lives permanently within the nerves of the body. The virus can flare up in adulthood in the form of shingles. For the most part, Dr. Sears considers chickenpox to be more bothersome than dangerous (only about 1 in every 65,000 cases are fatal). It usually causes more severe symptoms in teens and adults, or those with compromised immune systems. Chickenpox can also cause birth defects during the first half of pregnancy. Having the disease in most cases provides lifelong immunity, whereas the vaccine can wear off later on. “Kids who get the shot usually grow up without the disease. Kids who don’t get the shot usually either catch the disease or get the shot when they are preteens.”
Hepatitis A is a virus that causes temporary liver inflammation. “It is transmitted when a person comes into contact with infected stools and then ingests the virus.” Think… not washing hands after using the restroom or changing dirty diapers at a daycare, icky bar snacks that are filled with urinal cooties, etc. Sometimes it’s referred to as a surfer’s disease because beaches can be contaminated with sewage runoff.
Dr. Sears says that it makes sense to wait until a child is at least two to give this shot in order to lower the risk of a seizure side effect. He considers this to be a benign disease in young children, but harsher on teens and adults. This vaccine contains aluminum, so you may consider separating this from other vaccinations w/alum.
The flu virus is transmitted like a cold and its symptoms include fever, headache, body ache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, stuffy nose, runny nose, and cough. There are two types of vaccinations for the flu – a nasal spray and injection. Infants and young children normally receive the injection, although there may already be a spray version available as of 2007. The injections include trace amounts of mercury and formaldehyde, making this one of the vaccines that some parents and pregnant women decide to skip. In the end, Dr. Sears reminds us that the flu isn’t a disease that we need to be afraid of. If you decide to get this shot, try to find one without the full mercury dose.
The Meningococcus bacterium is transmitted like the common cold and causes and infection in the bloodstream that can spread to various organs and the brain. It also causes meningitis. Symptoms include minor aches and fever, and then severe headache, high fever, neck stiffness, vomiting, and a characteristic rash (red pinpoint dots that don’t disappear when the skin is pulled tight). These symptoms can progress in twenty-four hours. Dr. Sears considers this to be an extremely serious disease with “one of the most simple and pure vaccines available.” However, this vaccine hasn’t been approved for younger kids, although it is most common in infants less than two-years old. In the end, Dr. Sears says that this disease is severe but somewhat rare. There are potential side effects that may cause hesitation in parents.
Human Papillomavirus Disease (HPV)
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US. It causes genital warts and is transmitted through unprotected genital contact. Most notably, HPV causes cervical cancer. Dr. Sears says that getting this vaccine is a fairly good idea, as it may decrease the rate of cervical cancer. Parents may get this vaccination for their daughters in case they become sexually active. For a woman who abstains from pre-marital sex, the vaccine can still be beneficial in protecting her in a situation where her husband did not abstain before marriage. There are risks of birth defects if a woman gets pregnant during the month following the shot. It is still a new vaccine, so there isn’t much safety data yet.
Whew! That was a lot of information. Hopefully, my summary of Dr. Sears’ summary hasn’t left you with a big old headache. As for me… I’m prescribing myself two Tylenol and an hour of mind-numbing television.
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