Answering Parents’ Questions About Childhood Vaccines

Emily R. Faltemier, MD | Inova

Emily R. Faltemier, MD, is board-certified in family medicine and specializes in pediatrics, women’s health and primary care for adults. Dr. Faltemier sees patients at Family Medicine of Clifton/Centreville.

The Internet is full of misleading or downright false information about vaccines. Parents want to do what’s best for their children, but they get conflicting messages. Are childhood vaccines safe? Are they even necessary?

But we do have the facts, based on decades of large studies and medical science. Here’s what parents need to know about child immunizations so they can make an informed decision.

Why Does My Child Need Vaccines?

During the 1970s, 80s and 90s, a high percentage of children received vaccines for diseases like polio, diphtheria and measles. The vaccines worked — and cases of these diseases drastically dropped or were eliminated in the U.S. As a result, most of today’s parents never saw how dangerous these diseases are.

So why do today’s children need vaccines for diseases that aren’t a threat? Because if vaccine rates drop too low, many of these diseases will come back.

Without a high percentage of vaccinated children, diseases like measles and pertussis could quickly spread in schools, communities and across the country. Many of these diseases still thrive in other countries. It takes only one traveler to bring a disease back to the U.S., where it can easily infect unvaccinated people.

Are Vaccines Safe?

Yes. Vaccines go through extensive testing and review required by law to ensure their safety.   

All vaccines have some risks, such as temporary pain, redness or tenderness. Some children get a fever. More rarely, a child might have severe side effects such as an allergic reaction.

However, the benefits of vaccines clearly outweigh these small risks. There’s a much greater risk for unvaccinated children: They could become seriously ill from a vaccine-preventable disease.

Answering Parents’ Questions About Childhood Vaccines  | Inova

Should I Be Concerned About Vaccine Preservatives?

Preservatives help ensure vaccines don’t contain harmful germs. Preservatives also help keep the vaccine stable so doctors can reliably give the lowest possible dose.

The preservatives used in vaccines have also been extensively tested for safety. And the amount of preservatives in childhood vaccines is tiny. The average person encounters far more preservatives in foods or the environment.

Why Is the HPV Vaccine Important?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Many people get HPV and the virus clears on its own. But sometimes, the virus doesn’t go away. HPV can remain in the body and cause:

  • Anal cancer
  • Cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers (in females)
  • Oropharyngeal cancer (Cancer of the back of the throat, tongue and tonsils)
  • Penile cancer (in males)

Many of these cancers can be prevented if children get the HPV vaccine before they are exposed to the virus. That’s why experts recommend both males and females get their first dose around age 11. But if your child hasn’t gotten their first dose yet, talk with your doctor. It’s recommended for most people up to age 26.

Should I Consider an Alternative Vaccine Schedule?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics support a specific vaccine schedule. Normally, at your child’s well visits, he or she receives vaccines according to this schedule. But some parents choose to delay certain vaccines or change the approved schedule, using their own “alternative” vaccine schedule. 

The approved vaccine schedule for children has been studied and proven to be safe and effective. The recommended childhood immunization schedule was created to ensure:

  • Children would be immunized before they’re exposed to preventable diseases
  • Children get the shot when their immune systems can build good protection

Alternative vaccine schedules haven’t been studied for safety and effectiveness. Delaying vaccines or choosing an unproven alternative schedule increases the chances that a child will miss out on the protection they need.

With the current approved vaccine schedule, your child receives the best protection from these diseases. And their immunity helps protect those around them, such as newborns, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

What Are the School Vaccine Requirements?

Children need to receive certain vaccines before attending public school. Your child’s healthcare provider can help your child get the vaccines he or she needs. Virginia residents can check out the Virginia Department of Health for a detailed list of school-required vaccines.  

Children 12 years of age and older are also eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, though it’s not currently a requirement for school attendance.

Ask Questions and Be Informed

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s vaccines, don’t be afraid to speak up. Talk to your child’s provider and get answers. When you have the facts, you can feel good about vaccines, which protect your child from serious diseases. 

Schedule an appointment with your child’s PCP to ensure your child is up to date on vaccines and well visits. If you do not have a PCP, we welcome you to make an appointment with a provider at any of our primary care locations.

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