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There’s a lot of misinformation out there about vaccines. Know the facts.

It’s almost that time of year again — back-to-school. Beyond the new backpacks, notebooks and clothes, there are also health physicals and vaccines to cross off your to-do list. Without them, your kids won’t be able to attend school in the fall.

With all the myths about vaccines currently floating around, it’s important to be prepared and understand the facts.

“Having concerns about vaccinating your children is understandable; there is a lot of conflicting information being shared. That’s why it’s important to ask your doctor about any concerns you may have to better understand the safety and importance of vaccines,” says Dr. Allison Schuessler, a pediatrician at Geisinger Selinsgrove –Pediatrics.

7 vaccine myths debunked

1. Vaccines cause autism –One argument is that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, studies show that there is no link between vaccines and ASD. A common misconception revolves around a vaccine ingredient, thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative.

Since 2003, nine Centers for Disease Control-funded or conducted studies have found no link between vaccines with thimerosal and ASD. Additionally, no links have been found between ASD and other vaccine ingredients.

2. Vaccines contain harmful ingredients – Vaccines are the best defense that humans have against contagious and preventable diseases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates a licensed vaccine go through rigorous testing and multiple phases of trial before it is approved for use. Once approved, the FDA continues to monitor the vaccine’s safety. 

3. When you get vaccinated, you end up contracting the disease the vaccines are trying to prevent – Vaccines interact with your body’s immune system to produce a similar response that would occur if it were fighting a natural infection. This happens without putting your body at risk. Certain complications you may have through natural immunity will not occur when receiving a vaccine.

4. Natural immunity is better than vaccine-acquired immunity– Natural immunity is what happens when your body builds resistance to a disease after getting sick and recovering.

When you get a vaccine, your body creates vaccine-induced immunity, which occurs when you build resistance to a disease without the illness.

For example, to gain natural immunity from measles, you could face a one in 500 chance of death from the symptoms. This contrasts with one in 1 million people having a severe allergic reaction to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. 

5. Clean water and better hygiene practices mean we don’t need vaccines– Another myth is that good hygiene and sanitation are responsible for lower disease rates. While good hygiene, sanitation and clean water can reduce the spread of some diseases, data shows vaccines are largely responsible for the drop.

Consider the history of measles in the U.S. Widespread use of a measles vaccine shows an impactful drop in the spread of disease. Between 1968 and 1998, reported cases of measles dropped from 22,000 cases a year to fewer than 100. A similar drop in reported cases happened when vaccines for other diseases became available. 

6. It should be up to parents if they want to vaccinate their children– Talk to your doctor about which vaccinations your child may need before heading back to school. Children at different stages in life from infancy up to young adult need various vaccines or boosters. Be aware of any medical conditions that may impact whether a certain vaccine is right for your child and always speak to your doctor. 

7. If everyone else is vaccinated, my kids don’t need to be– Something important to understand about vaccinations, especially for kids heading back to school, is “herd immunity.” Like a herd of animals that will create a circle around its weaker members, immunized people help protect those who cannot receive vaccinations due to medical conditions. 

The lower immunization rates, the weaker the herd immunity. When 90 to 95 percent of a “herd” is protected, it is nearly impossible for a germ to spread and start an epidemic. 

“Choosing to not vaccinate your children can have serious consequences, not just for them, but for other children exposed to them,” Dr. Schuessler cautions. “The recent surge in measles cases across the country is a perfect example of why parents need to vaccinate their children.”

Know the guidelines

In 2017, Pennsylvania changed its guidelines surrounding vaccines and school attendance. Under the revised directives, parents have just five days from the first day of school to have their children vaccinated. Otherwise, they will no longer be able to send their children to public school. 

There is a bit of flexibility with this rule, however, if your child’s doctor provides a note that outlines when the vaccines will be given.

“By not vaccinating your children, there’s the threat of not being able to enroll them in school. There’s also the risk of exposing other children to serious illness, some who may be too sick to vaccinate,” advises Dr. Schuessler. “Parents have an obligation to prevent the spread of disease.”

Keep calm and vaccinate on

When kids need shots, it’s stressful for everyone. However, there are ways to reduce your child’s fears to make shots a little less painful. Start by talking to your child to calm them down. Let them know that it may hurt a little bit, but it will only last a moment. 

Offering distractions also works to reduce a child’s anxiety about their shots. If they have a favorite toy or smartphone app, let them use it during their vaccination. Tell them jokes, smile and try to take their mind off what is happening.

You can even offer a small reward when the shot is done, such as a later bed time or a special treat. By creating a positive environment around vaccinations, you can help your child accept them more easily.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Allison Schuessler, DO
Make an appointment with a pediatrician
Learn about pediatric care at Geisinger

Debunking 7 popular vaccine myths.

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