As parents, we want to do what’s best for our children, but no matter how protective we are, all babies eventually get their first bruise or scrape. When that happens, we can’t help but feel anguish at the sight of the scrape and typically feel that we could have done more to prevent it. The truth is we couldn’t.
Besides providing love, food, clothing and shelter, we also protect our children. In the pre-vaccine era, vaccine-preventable diseases affected entire villages, killing many in their wake. Fortunately, today as parents, we can prevent our children from suffering some of the harshest infections by vaccinating them. In fact, babies in the United States can be protected from 14 different diseases by the time they are 2 years of age.
Unfortunately, parents in some other countries do not have this opportunity. Although immunizations prevent about 2 to 3 million deaths every year, 22 million infants globally are not fully immunized with routine vaccinations. As a result, every year more than 1.5 million children younger than 5 years of age die from vaccine-preventable diseases around the world
During gestation, a baby receives maternal antibodies through the placenta. After birth, if the baby is breastfed, she will continue to receive antibodies in breast milk. Known as passive immunity, the protection provided by either of these types of antibodies is only short-term, lasting no more than a few weeks or months. Passive immunity is also limited in that it only protects against some diseases, leaving a baby susceptible to other diseases.
In contrast, vaccines allow a baby’s immune system to make its own antibodies; this is called active immunity. Because antibodies produced through active immunity remain in the form of immunologic memory, they last much longer and offer more complete protection compared with that provided by passive immunity.
Some parents, concerned about vaccine safety, request an alternative vaccination schedule or choose to forego vaccinations for their children. Although these decisions are made with the best of intentions, parents should realize that this decision is not without risk. First, separating or withholding vaccines increases the time during which their baby is susceptible to the diseases that vaccines prevent. Second, because the changes in scheduling are often unique only to that baby, they have not been tested. Finally, evidence suggests that stress associated with getting multiple vaccines does not induce greater levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than the stress of getting one vaccine. So taking the baby in for multiple visits will induce more stress during the period of time over which the vaccines are spread.
Decisions to delay or withhold vaccines also contribute to decreased immunization rates, thereby decreasing the amount of protection available to those in the community who cannot receive vaccines for health reasons or for infants who are too young to get certain vaccines. The concept of protecting non-immune members of a community by maintaining high immunization rates in those around them is called herd immunity.
Although as parents, we can’t prevent our babies’ first scrapes and bruises, we can protect them in many other important ways. Immunizations are one of them.
Watch “Vaccines and Your Baby” to learn more how vaccines work and the diseases vaccine prevent.
We would like to hear from you. Please use our online form to contact us with questions or comments.