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2018 Aug

Are Vaccines Safe?

My pediatric practice is busy with physicals during the summer. Each day I am greeted with the same question: “Do I need any shots?” This leads into a discussion about vaccines. Parents wonder if vaccines are safe and necessary. I understand their concerns. As a mom I had similar questions. It is normal for parents to be concerned about vaccine safety.

Vaccines were (and still are) developed to defend against life-threatening diseases. The practice of inoculation is commonly credited to Edward Jenner, who in 1796 inoculated against smallpox. However, sources note that the Chinese had been doing this since 1000 CE. Currently, it typically takes 10-15 years of testing and research to develop a vaccine.

My mother often spoke of the polio epidemic of the 50s. Her nephew was crippled from polio. In the height of the epidemic in 1952 there were 57,628 cases of polio in which 3,145 died and 21,269 experienced disabling paralysis. Jonas Salk developed the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and in 1957 launched a vaccination campaign which decreased the number of cases of polio by over 52,000. The vaccine was a huge success. My mother stood in a line a mile long to get the vaccine to protect her children from polio.

Today, few remember the deadly and devastating effects of such diseases. Our great success in disease prevention has become our biggest obstacle in vaccination. The vaccine-preventable diseases are just as deadly as they always were. They are, fortunately, just not as prevalent. With the speed of air travel, disease can enter our country quickly and silently. Parents who have never seen these diseases may fear the side effects of vaccines more than the diseases.

Vaccines work by imitating a disease without causing illness. This tricks our body into mounting an immune defense. Our body then works to produce antibodies against the disease. It is these antibodies that protect us if we are ever exposed to that disease. It’s like a secret weapon! Booster doses of a vaccine are given in intervals to produce additional antibodies for defense. Vaccines do not overload the immune system as the immune system can defend against daily attacks by numerous germs and viruses. Vaccine combinations decrease the number of injections that children take at one time and allow optimal protection from diseases.

The expected side effects of vaccines are quite minor: redness and tenderness at the site of injection, as well as fever (part of the immune response). If your child is fussy or feverish after vaccination, you may give children’s acetaminophen as directed by your pediatric healthcare provider. Such side effects generally do not last more than a day. It is no longer recommended to give acetaminophen prior to vaccination, as the initial febrile immune response helps the vaccine to work.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) develops the recommended vaccine schedule with approval from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This schedule is determined and updated based on scientific testing. You can rest easy knowing that vaccines are tested, safe and effective. I recommend the CDC vaccine schedule to my patients as the best and safest way to provide protection to their children. Spacing or delaying vaccines is not recommended as it increases the risk of disease and has not been scientifically tested and approved.

Vaccines do NOT cause autism. This fact has been scientifically proven time and again. This just goes to show how rumors can be misleading. In fact, Andrew Wakefield, the British physician who made this false claim was disbarred from practicing medicine in 2004. Vaccines do not cause autism: they prevent disease.

What if you are still not sure about vaccines? Consider having a discussion with a trusted pediatric healthcare provider. They can help you understand what vaccines are recommended and dispel any myths. They can review the Vaccine Information Sheet (VIS) with you to better explain each vaccine and answer further questions.

Rest assured that vaccines are safe, necessary, and effective. As a pediatric healthcare provider, it is an honor to be entrusted with the health, safety, and well-being of children. It is my personal mission to help families raise healthy, happy children. Why wouldn’t we want to protect our precious children from terrible diseases? Protect your children. Vaccines are safe; diseases are deadly.

For more information, visit


Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP

Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner as well as core faculty member at Walden University. Her book, Raising Today’s Baby: Second Edition, is available on


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