With vaccines hotly debated, it can be difficult and confusing to find the right information for you, your child, and your family. We’re here to help!
Your Immune System
Talk to any pediatrician who practiced before the era of the Hib vaccine and he or she can easily recount the enormous change in pediatric ERs in the US. Prior to the vaccine, it was common for a child to come in drooling and uncomfortable. Physicians did everything in their power to keep the child from crying, as their epiglottis was already inflamed from the bacterial infection and any small insult could result in a complete airway closure for the child – an emergency to say the least. Since the advent of the Hib vaccine, it is much less common to come across this potentially deadly health scare in the US. How does a vaccine prevent this from happening?
The first time a germ enters your body, your immune system creates antibodies, or proteins that signal your body to fight the germ. However, this process may take time to kick in and while the signal is going off, you may feel the effects of the germ and begin to feel sick. Your immune system has a wonderful memory; it can remember germs it has seen before and the next time you encounter that germ, your immune system swiftly tackles the germ before you even feel a sneeze.
How Vaccines Work
Vaccines take advantage of your immune system’s memory by introducing a weakened or killed version of the germ. This version is not strong enough to initiate the “sick response” while the signal is going off, but it is strong enough to alert your immune system to fight it. Your immune system can take the time necessary to process and kill the germ without having the full-blown illness. However, your immune system still inputs the data from the germ into its memory. If you encounter the germ a second time, you will either have no response at all or a much milder one because your immune system can come to the rescue using that swift second response.
The vaccine schedule is designed to protect vulnerable populations, namely young children and the elderly. Young children’s immune systems are still developing and are thus more susceptible to disease, which is why children may get sick frequently when first starting preschool or daycare. The goal of the vaccine schedule is to start the process of memory before exposure to various illnesses. This has the added bonus of reducing short and long term complications that may arise from getting the full version of the disease (did you know that measles can reactivate and cause life-threatening inflammation of the brain several years after the child had the disease?)
Furthermore, a large group of vaccinated individuals can provide herd immunity, meaning if one or two people are not vaccinated, they will be indirectly protected since the group has been; the group as a whole has a decreased risk of contracting the disease as well. However, this public health concept only works if very few people are not immunized and should be reserved for special populations that cannot get vaccinated, such as children undergoing cancer treatments.
Like any medical intervention, vaccines have side effects that all parents should be aware of, which most commonly include mild fever, fussiness, soreness/redness/swelling at the injection site. Note that seizure due to fever is UNCOMMON and severe allergic reactions are RARE.
*Tip for Parents: Vaccines.gov provides full side effect profiles for most vaccines if you’re looking for more information.
**When to Consult the Pros: Children with certain conditions SHOULD NOT be vaccinated. These populations include children with severe allergy, children undergoing chemotherapy, children with diseases causing a weakened immune system, children with lymphoma, and children born without an immune system. Consult your pediatrician for more information.
Vaccine Pros and Cons
If vaccines simply boost your immune system’s memory, then what’s all the fuss about? The dividing line between the pros and cons tends to focus on the ingredients used to create the vaccine. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that childhood vaccines are 90-99% effective in preventing disease and reduce long term risks and complications from serious presentations of illness that would occur with natural exposure. Those against vaccines state that vaccines are created with harmful ingredients. Major medical organizations including the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), CDC (Center for Disease Control), FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and WHO (World Health Organization), to name a few, state that the levels of these ingredients are extremely small, too small to cause harm. In the end, parents must weigh the benefits and risks to vaccination to make the best decisions for their families.
Why do schools require vaccines?
Because young children’s immune systems are still developing and are thus more susceptible to disease, they may get sick frequently when first starting preschool or daycare. If children are vaccinated, the school serves as a microenvironment of additional safety against dangerous microbes, which decreases the occurrence of these diseases. As a result, the risk of outbreaks and exposure to other children is greatly reduced.
Furthermore, schools are limited in their decision to accept children without vaccines because, first and foremost, they are governed by the state. For example, the state of CA dictates regulations and standards including vaccination protocols that must be implemented in schools. Parents can be easily frustrated by a school’s lack of compromise on this issue. However, it’s important to understand that the school must enforce all parameters set by the state. Additionally, schools are required to report multiple communicable diseases, many of which are considered by the medical establishment to be “vaccine preventable,” including:
Just as Dr. Maria Montessori believed “the goal of early childhood education is to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn,” the goal of vaccination is to activate the child’s own natural immune system to learn about disease and use that knowledge to protect him or herself. At Heritage Montessori, we appreciate our parents’ understanding of this matter and recognize it is the parents’ right to choose if they vaccinate their children. You have the ultimate decision as the parent of your child and can structure your family and academic environment however you see fit. Use this information as a tool to create environments for success!