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What Every Parent Should Know About Vaccines

A Mother and Son sit on an Exam Table While They Speak to a Physician

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Watching your child get a shot can be tough. It's even harder if you have fears or concerns about the safety of, or need for, the vaccine they’re getting.

Millions of parents get their kids vaccinated each year without concern. Yet some parents have heard rumors that vaccines can cause serious health problems — and it keeps them from getting their child the protection the shots can offer.

So how can parents get the facts about vaccine safety? Your child's pediatrician is your first source of reliable information. Health care providers are bound by law to give you written information on the benefits and risks of each vaccine suggested for your child. Reading this material can help you make a well-informed decision.

Another source of in-depth information on vaccine safety is the V-safe℠ after vaccination health checker from the CDC.

Are Vaccines Safe?

The short answer is yes, vaccines are safe. All vaccines are fully tested and monitored before being approved for use by the FDA. Most vaccines contain a dead or weakened form of the disease-causing virus or bacteria. These cause the body to make antibodies and other beneficial responses that protect the child from that disease.

In the case of COVID-19, the vaccine was given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and administered to millions before the FDA approved the EUA due to extreme need during the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean it cut corners when evaluating vaccine data, risks and benefits.

Why Are Vaccines Needed?

Many diseases that we don’t hear much about anymore in the United States, including polio and mumps, still thrive in other parts of the world. Travelers can and do bring these viruses back to the U.S. Without the protection of vaccines, these diseases could easily spread here again.

Don't Vaccines Cause Harmful Side Effects?

Some children have minor side effects from getting a vaccine, like a slight fever or swelling at the injection site. The risk of serious side effects is so small that it is hard to document.

Claims that vaccines cause autism or other diseases have been carefully researched and disproved. Rumors persist that an increase in autism in children is caused by thimerosal (a preservative added to vaccines). But thimerosal was removed from all vaccines in Sweden in 1995, and the frequency of autism has continued to increase there. Thimerosal has also been nearly removed in the U.S., where autism rates also keep increasing, as they have throughout the world. After a thorough review, in 2004 the Institute of Medicine rejected the idea that vaccines had any relationship with autism.

Is it Safe to Give Children Multiple Vaccines at Once?

Many studies have been done to evaluate the safety of multiple vaccines. None have shown that multiple vaccines cause a problem. Children are exposed to many foreign substances every day with no harmful effects. Scientists say that the tiny amount of virus or bacteria in vaccines is not enough to harm a child. What can be harmful, though, is delaying a child's vaccines needlessly, which leaves them more susceptible to disease.

The Link Between Vaccines and SIDS

Recommendations were developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to help reduce the risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and other sleep-related deaths in infants up to 12 months old. The AAP says that making sure your child is fully vaccinated can help reduce the risk for SIDS. No evidence has been found linking vaccines as a cause of SIDS.

Keeping Track of Vaccines

Most of your child’s vaccines are completed between birth and age six. Many vaccines are given more than once, at different ages, and in combinations. This means that you’ll need to keep a careful record of your child's shots. Although your health care provider's office will also keep track, it’s ideal to keep track yourself in case any important records are lost.

Ask your child's pediatrician for an immunization record form and keep it with your other essential documents. You can also download an easy-to-read immunization schedule and record form at the CDC website.

Most parents and health care providers do a good job of keeping up with vaccines. Yet studies show that about one-fourth of preschool children are missing at least one routine vaccine. Most states will not let your child start school without a complete vaccine record. Sometimes a vaccine is missed when a child is sick. No matter what the reason, it’s important to make up missed vaccines.

The Bottom Line on Vaccines

Keep this information in mind to help your child’s vaccines go more smoothly:

  • Common side effects of vaccines include swelling at the site of the injection, soreness, and fever. Discuss these side effects with your pediatrician and ask what symptoms deserve an office call.
  • Ask your provider's office if it participates in an immunization registry. This is a source you can go to if your vaccine records get lost.
  • Ask your pediatrician for their vaccine schedule so you know what to expect from your child’s upcoming visits.

Vaccines are some of the safest and most effective medicines we have — and we’re grateful that they have made many dangerous childhood diseases rare today.

Your Source for Trusted Coronavirus Vaccine Updates

With the coronavirus vaccine becoming more accessible for children, we’re here to help make sure you and your family have a medical team you can trust. For more coronavirus vaccine information from our medical experts, visit our Coronavirus Vaccine Resource Hub.

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