Why combination vaccines are ok

"... immune systems handle far greater challenges from everyday exposure to germs on shared toys, doorknobs, and the playroom floor.

"As Dr. Offit explains it: Think about the bugs that caused your child's last ear infection. Each single bacterium has 2,000 to 3,000 components that stimulate an immune response from the body. As those bacteria multiply, the challenge to the immune system increases exponentially. Your baby feels awful and likely has a high fever and lots of pain. The body pulls out the stops to fight it off. Now compare that to this: "The entire fourteen-shot course of childhood vaccinations contains only about 150 immunological components altogether," says Dr. Offit. This is about a tenth of the challenge posed by exposure to just one microscopic germ.

What's more, the bacteria and viruses used in vaccines are either killed or altered, says Martin Myers, M.D., author of "Do Vaccines Cause That?!" There are just enough to induce immunity, but not enough to make someone sick -- and certainly not enough to overload the immune system of a healthy child. As with any medical intervention, side effects, including soreness, rashes, and fever, are possible, but most are mild and short-lived. In rare instances, some children experience fever-induced seizures following shots, but though these are frightening, they cause no permanent harm."

"One common response to these concerns is to break up combination vaccines (which may contain up to five inoculations in one) or to spread them out. But that carries significant risks of its own. "Too often, an immunization delayed is an immunization missed," says Dr. Schaffner. "It's hard enough for parents to keep track." Keep track of your child's vaccines with Parenting.com's Vaccine Tracker Log"

"More troubling, during the gaps, kids are susceptible to catching serious diseases they could have been protected from. Vaccines are scheduled when they are for precise reasons: It's a balance between finding the time when the baby's immune system can respond and knowing when he's most in danger of catching the infection, says Dr. Schuchat. Give a shot late and a child is left unprotected at his most vulnerable time."

"Robert Sears, M.D., author of The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child, offers parents an alternative to the American Academy of Pediatrics schedule -- but he does so with Dr. Schuchat's concerns in mind. There are certain vaccines, including those that protect against meningitis, rotavirus, and pertussis, that he does not recommend delaying for the same reason she gives. However, he willingly offers families the option of postponing hepatitis A and B as well as polio, mainly because these illnesses do not pose the same threat to infants as the others."

"We live thirty years longer now than we did a century ago, thanks to purified water -- and vaccines," says Paul Offit, M.D., chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania."

Parenting.com / Jessica Snyder Sachs,
November 2008