Vaccinating children has become a very hot topic over the last several years. No longer are parents blindly following the schedule recommended by pediatricians (who oh by the way never take a SINGLE class on how vaccines are made or the safety of their side effects.) In a perfect world, we could just ask our pediatrician and trust their opinion, but unfortunately, they’re not always the most unbiased person to ask, since some doctors now get paid bonuses for having fully vaccinated patients. I’m so disappointed at yet another example of the medical world putting business before patients, but I must admit, I’m not all that surprised.
I’ll start by telling you that at 11 months, my child is currently up to date on the AAP schedule, but we did an alternating schedule and she never got more than 2 vaccines at each visit. After doing my research, I can tell you that will not be the case for any future children. Below is a brief description of the six vaccines the AAP recommends for a baby’s first year, and my condensed opinion of each. Of course there is a ton of information available on the web and I encourage you to do some research before making your decisions. I wish I had done more before now! All of the numbers I provide are from The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears, which I highly recommend, or the corresponding website; thevaccinebook.com. I’ve also heard good things about the books Vaccines: The Risks, The Benefits, The Choices by Dr Sherri J. Tenpenny and What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children’s Vaccinations by Stephanie Cave, but I have not had a chance to read either of those titles.
Hepatitis B- Very rare disease in infants since it’s an STD (only 360 reported cases per year before the vaccine, now at 120 per year.) 2 brands of the vaccine; Recombivax and Engerix, which both contain aluminum and formaldehyde. The standard side effects occur more frequently with this vaccine than others, and 15% also experience flu like symptoms. It can be administered in combo shots too, Comvax (HIB and hep B) or Pediarix (DTaP, polio, and hep B). The scare tactic my doctor used was “what if she needs a blood transfusion one day?” Well, there’s a 1 in 5 chance of that happening to anyone at some point in their life, but IF she ever did, there’s only a 1 in 65,000 chance that the donated blood would somehow make it through the screenings infected. So I’ll take my chances on this one and not vaccinate in childhood. I understand why doctors push this one for the benefit of the overall society, but as I don’t use needles for any reason or have multiple sexual partners, (and hope that my children will be the same in these regards), there is no need to get this shot. Depending on her career path, like if she wants to work in the healthcare field where she will come into contact with other people’s bodily fluids, she may need it as an adult.
HIB, Haemophilus influenzae type B- a disease that it transmitted like the common cold and usually only causes severe cold-like symptoms, but can also cause meningitis, blood infection, and bone infection. The US went from 20,000 serious cases in the year before vaccinating to just 25 fatalities per year now. This vaccine has the lowest rate of side effects and although it’s rare now, you can’t see symptoms until the disease is at a later stage. It can be treated with IV antibiotics, but the likelihood of permanent damage is higher once you know you need them. 2 brands; Sanofi Pasteur’s ActHIB, and the Merck brand which has a small amount of aluminum. Can get it in the combination Pentacel shot (w DTaP and polio) or Comvax (w hep B) or in TriHIBit (DTaP for the last dose at 18mo). Breastfed babies not in daycare are not as likely to get this disease, but since the incidence of resulting side effects are so low and the nature of the symptoms, I would again choose to get this vaccination.
Pneumococcus- very common disease, and most common cause of infant meningitis. CDC estimates there were 60,000 severe cases in 2000, the year before the vaccine came out, and it’s since only decreased by half since then because of the flu like behaviors of the strains of the disease. It can be treated with over the counter or IV antibiotics. A baby cannot be infected by the shot since it’s not a live culture. 2 brands are available, both containing small amounts of aluminum, either Prevnar which contains 7 strands or Pneumovax 23, which protects from 23 strains. 20% of babies have side effects, some mild, some had one-time seizures. Breastfed babies not in daycare are not likely to get this disease. If I get this one next round, it will be Pneumovax brand and the only shot given that month due to the aluminum.
DTaP- Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertussis: Not a live culture, so you cannot be infected by the shot, which contains aluminum. Brands offered are Deptacel (has some aluminum), Tripedia (contains aluminum, polysorbate, and mercury) , Infanrix (most aluminum); of these, I’d get Daptacel. It’s important for the Pertussis portion because it’s a disease spread like the common cold and it’s extremely fatal to young babies under 6 months who haven’t completed their shots. The disease is often carried by adults and teens, which is why the Tdap is recommended as an every 10 yr booster (of the options Boostrix and Adacel, I’d go with Adacel) to prevent the spread of it, thus protecting the infants that they come into contact with. Side effects were worse back when the whole P germ was included, but now it’s acellular and the standard side effects occur in about 15% of babies. Available in lots of combo shots; Pentacel (DTaP, HIB, and polio in one shot, but doesn’t list their individual components), Pediatrix (DTaP and Polio), or TriHIBit (DTaP and HIB). I believe that herd immunity is important to keep diseases at bay, and the threat of pertussis is just too great to risk in my opinion, since lots of people go undiagnosed, thinking they have bronchitis or just a persistent cough. Right now you can’t get P without the others (which I personally think are unnecessary for babies), so I’d risk the side effects for fear of getting/spreading whopping cough. If I could only vaccinate against pertussis in infancy and tetanus later, I’d do that, but that’s not an currently option.
Rotavirus- Very common intestinal virus that causes vomiting, diarrhea and thus dehydration. It’s spread by contact with an infected person’s stool or saliva. About 50,000 kids are hospitalized each year, and an estimated 50 die of dehydration as a result of the disease. There is no antibiotic, you just have to stay hydrated and let the illness run its’ course. Babies that are in daycare are more likely to catch it, as well as formula fed babies. 2 brands that are both administered orally; RotaTeq and Rotarix, both made from infected humans and/or cows and grown in kidney cells of a monkey. (Ummmm that is sickening.) Since it’s a live virus, it is possible to get and spread the disease after baby swallows the vaccine, if they don’t digest it all (20-50% don’t), so it’s important to be especially careful at diaper changing time for several days after if you do vaccinate. (I’m now SO, so mad at my pediatrician for not informing us about that.) The vaccine’s job is to cause a very mild form of the disease, so if your baby is around it, their risk of catching will be lower or they’ll only have a mild case, thus baby exhibiting signs of a stomach flu are expected after receiving this vaccine. Other than that, standard side effects occur in about 10% of babies, and there is data linking an older brand of the vaccine with intussusception, an abdominal problem that is very painful and serious, but treatable, sometimes requiring surgery. This one is kind of tough because it depends so much on your families’ situation, but for mine as a breastfeeding stay at home mom, there is no question that I will NOT be vaccinating against this one in the future. In my opinion, the potential risks (and ick factor) are higher than the possible benefit.
Polio- The US has been polio free since 1985, and only a few thousand cases are reported each year in Africa and Asia. The only brand available is Ipol, uses kidney cells mixed with strains of the virus in cow’s blood, but then soaked in formaldehyde and other chemicals to inactivate the virus, so it cannot infect people. Side effects occur infrequently with this shot. You can also get the combo Pentacel (polio, DTaP, and HIB in one shot) to avoid extra injections. Since the US has been polio free for nearly 30 years, this one is relatively safe to skip or delay. An outbreak could still occur, which is why doctors want all children vaccinated until the disease is eradicated worldwide, but as I don’t think it’s likely my young child will be a world traveler, so I feel safe at least delaying this vaccine until the teen years. We are involved with a very missions-minded church, so if we choose to eventually get this vaccination, it will be because we do come into contact with people who travel to Africa.
Next week I’ll post about the risks and benefits of the vaccines recommended for children 1-12 years, so check back!