Paul A. Offit, MD, discusses concerns about whether babies' immune systems can handle the challenge of vaccines.
Do babies get too many vaccines?
Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I’m talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center, here at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The most common question that we get asked here at the center is, “Do babies get too many vaccines?” It’s an understandable question. In the first few years of life, babies get vaccines to prevent 14 different infections. That can mean as many as 27 inoculations during that first few years of life; it can mean as many as six shots at one time; and I don’t care how smart you are about viruses or immunology, it’s hard to watch your baby go through that.
So, the question is, “Is it too many?”
Well, so let’s take a step back. When babies are in the womb, they’re in a sterile environment. When they enter the birth canal and the world, they’re not. And very quickly they have living on the surface of their body, trillions of bacteria. I am not just trying to sound like Carl Sagan here, literally trillions of bacteria. You actually have roughly a 100 trillion bacteria on the surface of your body — that’s more than you have cells in your body. Now each bacterium, each single bacterium, has between 2,000 and 6,000 immunological components. Now, by immunological component, what I mean is the complex sugar that sits on the outside of the bacteria, so-called polysaccharide, or the proteins that make up the bacteria. Viruses also have proteins, and those are considered also immunological components. Now, if you add up all the immunological components that are currently contained in vaccines, it adds up to about 160. So think about that — 160 immunological components, which consist of viral proteins, bacterial proteins, or bacterial polysaccharide — as compared to the trillions of bacteria, each bacterium of which contains 2,000 to 6,000 immunological components. So, I think literally what you are exposed to in vaccines is a drop in the ocean compared to what you’re exposed to in daily life. Frankly, I think a cut on your knee is a greater challenge to your immune system than are vaccines. I think the common cold, which can reproduce itself thousands of times in your body, is a greater challenge to your immune system than vaccines.
So, I think the short answer to the question “Can babies tolerate so many vaccines given in the first few years of life?” is yes, because frankly they encounter far more in their environment than they’re ever going to encounter in vaccines.
Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center
Last Reviewed on Mar 06, 2020