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When It Comes to Vaccines, Don't 'Space Out'

People are familiar with two camps of thoughts regarding childhood vaccinations: Those who avail themselves of the scientific advances that have led to the reduction and elimination of many debilitating illnesses, and those who follow the advice of Hollywood stars who speak out against vaccinations.

What most people don’t realize, until they become parents and start talking to other moms and dads, is that there is a third camp: people who believe in spacing out their vaccines beyond their pediatrician’s recommendations.

Concerned with the number of shots infants are advised to receive, many parents come into my office questioning the recommended vaccine schedule. These parents understand the important role vaccinations have had in preventing disease, but they are concerned about giving their babies “too many shots,” too soon.

Parents have the ultimate say about their children’s care, but I work to ensure they are making the most educated decisions possible for their children.

What I explain is that the schedule we recommend has been rigorously tested and vetted. Every year, the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) reviews all available data on vaccine effectiveness and safety and updates recommendations. The members of this committee include experts in pediatrics, epidemiology, immunology, public health, ethics as well as a member of the public.

The schedule is designed to give vaccines at the earliest possible age at which a child's immune system will respond. The vaccines introduce a tiny part of the bacteria or virus of a disease, allowing the baby’s immune system to create protective antibodies that prevent a child from coming down with serious infections.

It might seem like your baby is being injected with a lot at once, but it’s important to keep in mind that the recommendations include not only the type and doses of vaccines but the timing of them as well. The vaccine schedule is designed to protect babies when they are at highest risk for developing serious disease.

Administering the vaccines at the appropriate intervals increases the level of antibodies needed to fight disease. Boosters, similarly, are given at peak points in a child’s immune development. Spacing vaccines beyond the recommendations only leaves a child vulnerable to debilitating or fatal disease. It’s all risk and no benefit.

The other danger of spacing out is that parents will “space out.” There are so many things demanding your attention when you’re a new parent, it is very easy to forget to make that follow-up appointment or come in for the shot that you postponed.

So when it comes to protecting your child from preventable illnesses, my advice is to follow your pediatrician’s advice. Vaccinate your children, stick to the recommended schedule and don’t “space out.”

Meet the Author

Jennifer Birkhauser, MD, FAAP

Specialty: Pediatrics

Being a mother of three young boys has instilled in Dr. Birkhauser a strong desire to keep children as healthy as possible by emphasizing preventive medicine. “Sick kids break my heart, so my goal is to work as a team with parents to get children healthy and keep them that way,” says Dr. Birkhauser, who is excited to be a part of Hoag Medical Group. She hopes to become an educational resource for parents on a wide variety of medical and childrearing topics. “I treat my patients as I would want my own children to be treated,” she says. View Bio [+]