Remember the days when children couldn’t play outside in the summer because they might be infected by a local polio outbreak? “You probably don’t if you’re the parent of a young child now,” says Summit Medical Group pediatrician Michelle Bender, M.D. That’s because polio, which can cause paralysis, is one of many childhood diseases stopped or greatly reduced in recent decades by vaccines.
“We don’t see the terrible diseases we used to see because now most people get vaccinated,” says Dr. Bender, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Summit Medical Group. “So it’s easy to be complacent.” Yet each year there are still small outbreaks of conditions, such as measles and mumps that can be prevented by vaccines.
Weighing the Benefits and Risks
Measles can cause pneumonia, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), and even death. Complications from mumps and rubella can include deafness and fertility problems. To protect your children from serious, preventable conditions like these, it’s important to get them vaccinated. Talk with your child’s doctor about which vaccines your child needs to stay healthy. Your child’s doctor is a good resource to help you weigh the benefits and risks of any choices about your child’s health care.
Parents sometimes worry about possible vaccine side effects, says Dr. Bender. “They may have questions about short-term side effects, like ‘Will my child have a fever?’ or ‘How will they feel the day of the vaccination?’” she says.
Some also wonder about long-term effects, like whether vaccines can cause autism—a question that has received much media attention. “Most physicians and scientists don’t believe there is any connection between vaccines and autism,” says Dr. Bender. “I have vaccinated my own children, and I certainly wouldn’t have done that if I thought there was a connection.”
Where to Find Information
Dr. Bender encourages parents to seek vaccine information from reliable sources, such as the “Live Well Library” on Summit Medical Group’s website. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Health Prevention (cdc.gov/vaccines) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org/healthtopics/immunizations.cfm) have reviewed multiple large studies and found that the rate of autism is not different between children who have had vaccines and those who haven’t.
Working together, you and your child’s doctor can make the best decisions about vaccines and all topics that affect your child’s health. So keep the lines of communication open.