These days, immunizations are a very hot topic. Parents are confused and overwhelmed by all the conflicting information out there. Unfortunately, many pediatricians are unable to educate parents about the pros and cons of vaccines. Much of the parental concern is focused on the number of vaccines children receive by the time they reach adolescence. Most children receive 34 vaccines by the time they are 4 years old and another 18 by the time they are 18 years old. That’s a total of 52 vaccines during infancy, childhood and adolescence!
Many parents are looking for information and options. They are often scared about potential side effects or harmful ingredients. Those parents who question the standard immunization schedule are often made to feel like bad parents by their pediatrician. Many pediatricians negate the idea of an alternative vaccine schedule and some even discharge patients from their care if they do not follow the recommended CDC vaccination schedule.
Although there isn’t an official alternative vaccination schedule, some physicians are willing and able to help parents develop a schedule specific to their child’s needs.
For example, the Hepatitis B vaccine is given at birth, at 1-2 months of age, and again at 6-18 months of age. Hepatitis B is a very serious, sometimes fatal, chronic disease that causes liver damage and can result in liver failure or liver cancer. However, this disease is transmitted sexually or by blood from an infected needle. The risk of exposure to Hepatitis B for infants and children is extremely low.
So why do we continue to vaccinate newborns for Hepatitis B? About 25 years ago a group of doctors from the CDC, US medical centers, and pharmaceutical companies estimated that 30,000 infants and children were being infected with Hepatitis B each year. However, the actual number of cases per year at that time was 360. It seems the 30,000 was a gross overestimation of the actual number of cases, but they decided to develop the vaccine based on that number. Since 1991, it has been recommended that all infants receive a Hepatitis B vaccine. Even though there is little risk of exposure, unless one of the child’s parents is Hepatitis B positive, we continue to immunize all infants and children against Hepatitis B. Some parents choose to delay the Hepatitis B vaccine for this exact reason.
The Hib (hemophilus influenza b) vaccine provides an altogether different story. Also given to infants beginning at 2 months of age, the Hib vaccine has saved countless lives from infection with Hib meningitis. Infants and young children are especially susceptible to this disease, which is why the vaccine was developed for children in the 1980s. Though the rate of Hib infection has decreased, it still remains a potentially harmful disease that affects young children.
Hepatitis B and Hib are just two examples of how knowing the facts about vaccines and the diseases they are intended to prevent can help you navigate through the confusion. This knowledge can help you make important decisions regarding your child’s health.
Finding the right health provider
Ultimately, the decision to vaccinate your child on an alternate schedule is your choice, though it isn’t necessarily an easy one to make.
1) Find a pediatrician who is willing to work with you, not against you. Taking a team approach will provide your child with the best care. Not all pediatricians are open alternative vaccination schedules, so it is important to find the right pediatrician for you and your child.
2) Ask your pediatrician about both the benefits and the risks of each vaccine. This is a good way to start the conversation about vaccines. Reviewing each vaccine will give you the opportunity to gain knowledge and ask questions.
3) Discuss your child’s health status with your pediatrician. There may be reasons for making changes to the vaccine schedule that are related to your child’s specific health concerns. Your doctor should be able to discuss this issue with you.
4) Decide which vaccines you want to give your child, then ask your pediatrician to help you create an individualized vaccine schedule. Remember, not all pediatricians will help you with this, so it is important to find the right one.
There are countless resources that discuss the topic of vaccinations, yet there are few with an unbiased opinion. A few books I recommend to parents who want to make an educated decision regarding vaccinations are found below:
The Vaccine Book – Robert Sears, MD
Childhood Vaccinations – Laura Feder, MD
What your doctor may not tell you about children’s vaccinations – Stephanie Cave, MD
– Dr. Smialek is a naturopathic pediatric physician who specializes in treating many common childhood conditions including, asthma, allergies, colds/flu, ear infections, constipation, diarrhea, colic, rashes, headaches, and food allergies. Dr. Smialek also performs well baby and child exams. As an Alternative Vaccine Provider, Dr. Smialek advises parents on alternative vaccine schedules.