Childhood Immunizations

By Diane Lamm, RN, BSN

There’s a lot of buzz about the topic of childhood immunizations lately. Some say vaccines cause autism and other illnesses. Others say it’s irresponsible to not vaccinate your children. As a nurse, you may find people coming to you for answers, so you ought to be prepared with some answers.

First of all, we need to make clear that there is not a doctrinal point of view on this topic. A person’s faith and status as a child of God does not depend on whether or not they choose to vaccinate their children.

As nurses, our opinions should be based on science. What does the research say about the safety of vaccines? We do know that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitor and research vaccines on a regular basis. In fact their Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) has information on more than 21 million individuals who have collectively received over 134 million vaccine doses (McNeil et al, 2014). Their research has helped to develop the best schedule for vaccine administration, determined populations that are at risk for side effects, and confirmed the safety of vaccines through post-marketing clinical trials.

One of the most common vaccine issues in the news lately has been the link of the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. Where did that idea come from? There was a study done in England back in 1998. The doctor studied 12 children. Think of that – 12 children out of the millions that get the MMR vaccine. No one was ever able to reproduce his results and he has since had his medical license taken away for fraud – it turned out that he was trying to sell a single component vaccine and was in line to make millions if he could convince people that the MMR vaccine was unsafe. While his original findings got a lot of publicity and altered the rates of vaccination, the debunking of his study did not.

As nurses, how can we communicate this issue to parents who come to us for advice? One way is to explain the theory of cause and effect. Just because B follows A, it cannot be assumed that A caused B. Autism spectral disorder is usually discovered at about 15-18 months of age – this is because that is when language delays are typically noticed. The MMR vaccine is given between 12-15 months of age. Does one cause the other? So far, science has not been able to prove that.

As stated above, there are side effects from vaccines and there are certain populations that should not receive certain vaccines. It is important to know these things so that we protect and educate our patients. If a person has had a serious side effect to a previous vaccine, that person should not get a second dose. Hopefully, if others have been immunized against that disease, the person will be protected through “herd immunity.” Herd immunity means that if enough of the population is immunized against a certain disease, it is less likely to spread to those who couldn’t get immunized – children and adults with cancer, those who are immunocompromised, or those who are not yet old enough to receive the vaccine.

So, take some time to make sure you know the facts about immunizations and be prepared to share your knowledge, accepting that the person you are educating has the right to make their own decision.

McNeil, M. M., Gee, J., Weintraub, E. S., Belongia, E. A., Lee, G. M., Glanz, J. M., . . . DeStefano, F. (2014). The vaccine safety datalink: Successes and challenges monitoring vaccine safety. Vaccine, 32(42), 5390-8. doi: /10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.07.073


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