Feature Article: Four Common Vaccine Safety Questions

Published on in Parents PACK

Many times, when the topic of vaccines arises, the conversation quickly turns to vaccine safety. As we begin a new year, we wanted to revisit some of the most common questions we are asked.

What about vaccines and autism?

This question has been at the forefront of vaccine conversations for almost two decades now. In part, it remains a concern because we do not know what causes autism. Scientists have made great strides in understanding the genes that have been associated with autism. And they have identified some environmental factors, such as exposure in the womb to certain drugs, like valproic acid. Paternal age has also been shown to be a risk factor.

Researchers have also studied the possibility that vaccines might cause autism. To date, dozens of studies have focused on a causal link between vaccines and autism — the studies were conducted by different groups of scientists and included hundreds of thousands of patients from around the world. Not one single study performed with the scientific rigor the issue deserves found any reason to suggest a causal link between receipt of vaccines and development of autism. 

To review more detailed information about vaccines and autism, visit the related web page or view the printable Q&A.

What about vaccine ingredients?

We hear a lot in the news about toxic chemicals in our environment. In particular, parents of young children are encouraged to be aware of what they are exposing their children to in their food, toys and other sources. So it is only natural to wonder about what is in the vial or syringe that is brought in to give your baby vaccines. Indeed, it is counterintuitive to actively introduce chemicals directly into a baby’s bloodstream when you spend time actively monitoring everything else that goes into their little bodies.

So, why do doctors think this is OK?

The reality is most of the chemicals in the vial are present in extremely small amounts, and studies coupled with years of experience have provided solid evidence that children are not being harmed by the ingredients in vaccines. Many doctors, particularly those who have been practicing for 15 or 20 years, have seen thousands of patients get vaccinated safely and grow up to lead healthy, happy lives. Sadly, many of these same doctors have also seen patients whose lives were altered or lost because of vaccine-preventable diseases.

To review more detailed information about vaccine ingredients, visit the related web section or view the printable Q&A. More detailed resources are also available related to aluminum and mercury, which have been specific ingredients of concern for some parents.

Do babies get too many vaccines?

As more vaccines have been developed to protect against diseases sometimes considered less scary, some parents have started to ask if babies just get too many vaccines to handle. The truth of the matter is that every vaccine a baby is given prevents one or more of the diseases that baby may be exposed to naturally. Even with the number of vaccines being given, babies are not being exposed to more pathogens than they would have 40, 50 or even 100 years ago. The difference is that parents are now able to control the exposure.

Parents often feel out of control when they go to the doctor’s office and they have to watch their babies get several vaccines and then take care of them while they are cranky or feverish a few hours later. However, giving babies vaccines is one of those moments when parents are actually taking back control from some of the scariest diseases in history.

To review more detailed information about concerns related to too many vaccines, visit the related web information (select “Vaccines impact on the immune system”) or view the printable Q&A.

Why are so many vaccines given in a single visit?

It can be overwhelming when parents see a nurse walk in with multiple syringes all containing vaccines for their baby, and a natural response is to want to spare their children the pain that they know is coming. However, when scientists studied the physiological response to stress, they found that babies experienced the same amount of stress getting a single shot as they did getting multiple shots.

So spreading out the shots over multiple visits would actually cause babies more stress in the long run. Think of it like pulling off a bandage or pulling out a tooth. The child — or we — know the pain is coming, so a stress response occurs, but most of us opt for the quick, short pain than the drawn out stress associated with the anticipation of what is coming.

To review more about the immunization schedule, how it is tested for safety, and why it is set up the way it is, visit the related web page or view the printable Q&A.

If you have additional questions about vaccines and cannot find the answers on our website, email us at vacinfo@email.chop.edu. Making vaccine choices for your family can be daunting, but remembering that vaccines allow you to control something even scarier may help.

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.