The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives, especially children. But we shouldn’t let that disruption impact their long-term health needs by deviating from their recommended vaccine schedule. It’s important for children to continue receiving the routine care they need, especially during this time of uncertainty. This helps to lessen the risk of a more serious health problem later on. Children age 2 and under who have received their recommended vaccines are protected from 14 serious and potentially deadly diseases, such as whooping cough and measles.
Staying on schedule with vaccines is important even if children are learning virtually or have other disruptions to their school year. Vaccines form a basis for long-term protection from serious diseases. Vaccines also help to provide “herd immunity,” which protects babies and those with compromised immune systems that impact their ability to be vaccinated.
Joe Perno, M.D., vice president of medical affairs at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, answers some common questions about vaccines and talks about why it’s important for families to stay up-to-date on their children’s vaccines.
I’ve heard it’s better to have the disease than to be vaccinated. Is this true?
Many people do not realize how debilitating and deadly the vaccine-preventable diseases can be to both children and adults. Vaccines have changed the way we practice medicine. Children who show up in the Emergency Center with fever and no immunizations require a very different workup than a child who is fully immunized.
Due to the current vaccines, most people do not recall measles, mumps or whooping cough. However, we have seen large scale outbreaks of whooping cough and measles in this country. Unvaccinated children are at risk for these deadly diseases, and they put others at risk too. For example, infants who have not reached the appropriate vaccine age and those with depressed immune systems, such as patients who are being treated for cancer, are particularly at risk.
Should I be concerned about mercury in vaccines? I’ve heard this can be harmful.
Thimerosal, which contains mercury, is used as a preservative in some vaccines to prevent growth of bacteria. Since 2001, there is no thimerosal or mercury in any vaccines routinely given to children under the age of 6. Furthermore, there is no link with vaccines, thimerosal or mercury to autism.
A small amount of thimerosal exists in some flu vaccines; however, the levels are very low and children can safely receive the vaccine. Thimerosal is only present in multi-dose vials since a preservative is needed. Single dose vials do not contain thimerosal or mercury.
Would it be safer to start immunizations once my child is over 1 year of age?
This is an extremely dangerous practice as it leaves children susceptible to dangerous infections that would be otherwise preventable. For example, pertussis, or whooping cough, is extremely dangerous and potentially fatal to infants. It is imperative to follow the vaccine schedule developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There is no proof that spacing out the vaccinations is safer or better for the child. The current vaccine schedule was developed by the CDC based upon scientific research. Pediatricians and parents are slowing the vaccine schedule down without basing it on any scientific fact. These delays leave children at risk for disease.
My children are college-age, so they don’t need vaccines, right?
College-age children should receive a booster before going off to school. Adults need booster shots also. Currently, we are recommending pertussis immunization for pregnant mothers and any close contacts of newborns. Of course, everyone needs a flu shot each year.
What should I do if I’m not sure if my child needs a vaccine?
You can check with your child’s pediatrician to see if he or she is up to date or needs any vaccines. If you’re concerned about bringing your child in for vaccines during the pandemic because of concerns about exposure, you should talk to your physician or his or her staff about what they’re doing to protect their patients’ well-being, like wearing masks, enhanced cleaning and other measures. Johns Hopkins All Children’s, for example, has put a number of precautions in place to protect the health and well-being of our patients while they’re here.
Your county’s health department also provides vaccines for children. Learn more by visiting the website for your county’s department of health or giving them a call.
For more on the importance of vaccines, check out the infographic below: