Why I Vaccinate My Kids

Most of you know me—if you know me at all—as a pediatrician. But I’m a parent, too, just like you. I have three fantastic girls that I love dearly. Let’s talk.

My first daughter was born before I knew anything about medicine. She has taught me more than I could have imagined. I’ve watched as she has grown from a tiny and helpless infant into the child she is today—a mature and caring girl whose generosity puts me to shame.

Our second daughter came while I was in medical school. She looks just like her big sister, but has a very different personality. As a baby, she was…we’ll call it “feisty.” She’s still got that streak, but she’s so much fun. She lives to entertain. Yesterday, she broke her arm doing “gymnastics” off a table, trying to make her sister laugh.

The third just turned 4 months old. She’s been the easiest of the three—maybe because we’ve done this a couple times before. She smiles all the time (except when she’s screaming). She thinks I’m funny. And I think she’s adorable.

Sorry, I got distracted. Pretty girls have a way of doing that.

In my field, having children of your own can be really helpful, but it can make things more difficult as well. I’ve taken care of lots of really sick kids, some of whom never made it out of the hospital. Those situations are a reality of life in the medical field. But that doesn’t make it any easier. And while I won’t pretend to know exactly how it feels to lose a child, it’s hard not to think of your own kids in those situations.

I’ve taken care of children—children whose parents love them just as much as I love mine—in the ICU with pneumococcal meningitis. Kids that have permanent neurological damage as a result of a measles infection. Babies suffering from pertussis brought home by an unvaccinated sibling. A teenage girl, burned into my memory forever, who died from influenza.

The generation of pediatricians that came before me could tell far more stories about the kids they cared for with meningitis or epiglottitis. Because their patients were at higher risk than mine, they had to worry more about every child with a fever. And they saw enough children with measles and chickenpox to know that some of them don’t just get better in a week.

Go back a couple more decades, and you could talk to doctors who cared for patients with polio—a disease so devastating that families literally stood in line to get their children a vaccine as soon as it was available. And you’d meet some doctors whose biggest concern about fever and sore throat was diphtheria, not strep.

I’m fortunate to practice medicine in a world where we can prevent a lot of these diseases. But they are (second only to improved personal hygiene) one of the most important advances in modern medicine. Vaccines have saved millions of lives, here in the US and around the world.

Vaccines are one of the safest medical interventions we have. They aren’t perfect, but they’re a lot safer that the diseases they prevent. And even safer than the treatments we could use to treat some of those diseases.

They don’t cause autism. The tiny amount of aluminum in vaccines isn’t harmful. Allergic reactions are extremely rare. Vaccinating a baby doesn’t overwhelm his immune system. In fact, as I’ve told a lot of parents, the most dangerous part of vaccinating your child is the drive to the office.

I vaccinated my first daughter because I trusted her pediatrician. And I think that’s a really good reason. Your child’s doctor has years of education, training, and perspective that help him or her evaluate evidence and make sound medical decisions. Finding a pediatrician that you trust is a crucial step in your journey as a parent.

My youngest daughter is also vaccinated, but for a different reason—because I’ve done my research.

I’ve spent nearly a decade now learning about how the body works, how various diseases affect it, and how the immune system protects against them. I’ve learned how we can prepare the immune system in advance to combat these life-threatening illnesses. I’ve spent countless hours learning how scientific studies are designed, how drugs and vaccines are evaluated for effectiveness and safety. I’ve learned how we can know which evidence to trust.

My kids are vaccinated because I love them. I want what’s best for them. I know how devastating these diseases can be. And I couldn’t live with myself if they suffered or died from a disease I could have prevented.

As always, your comments are welcomed (even if you happen to disagree). I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Please try to keep it civil--I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Why I Vaccinate My Kids

  1. When I was a child in the early 1960’s there was an evening vaccine clinic in a local elementary school. It started at 5:30 and by eight there was still a line out the door of the auditorium and and wrapped around the parking lot. My parents were so relieved when I got my cup with a sugar cube with polio vaccine on it. People back then understood the dangers from seeing them first hand.

  2. I can’t understand there people spreading the idea that vaccin is harmful. And moms told other moms to stop vaccinating their children with fake facts. Somewhere, I heard that a doctor said that she did not vaccinate her children because of its risky. In my country, people rather belived in a myth than a medical fact.

  3. I posted this on KevinMD, but didn’t get any informative responses, so I figured I would try your site directly.
    As a non-medical professional and young parent, I have to say that there is an awful lot of information pulling many of us in both directions. Pediatricians who we trust and respect tell us vaccines are safe, but there are very convincing documentaries stating that there are actually no valid studies proving their safety (many of which include pediatrician speakers agreeing that there are no such studies). It doesn’t help that most of the world vaccinates under different schedules, with substantially fewer overall vaccines, and separate doses opposed to combined (like MMR). I’m not interested in a blog battle, and am not pro or against vaccines, so please don’t take this comment that way. I’m simply concerned, and interested in doing research myself rather than just listening to others. I’m interested in knowing where the studies can be found that show/prove the safety of vaccines. Can you point me toward resources that pediatricians like yourself find substantial enough to validate making claims about vaccines being safe? Something reviewed and universally accepted globally would be really helpful.
    I don’t question the purpose of vaccines or why one would want to vaccinate their child – that part makes sense in most cases. My concern is whether the vaccines being used today are actually safe.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Thanks for your question. Trust me, I understand your struggle. There’s so much information out there, on both sides, and deciding what is true and what isn’t can be hard.

      First, I’ll admit my ignorance with international vaccine schedules. I think that to make that comparison, you have to look specifically at developed countries with similar resources to fund a vaccine program, school systems that collect large numbers of children, etc. I just looked up the schedules for Great Britain and Germany, which are both very similar to our own. That said, just because another country has made a decision doesn’t mean it’s the right one for us. Disease rates are different in different parts of the world, so there is good reason for some differences there.

      The documentaries you’re referring to ARE convincing. But they’re convincing because of emotion, not because of evidence. That’s one of the biggest challenges of medicine and science–we like our data, but people just respond more strongly to stories. It’s important to look at who the “experts” in these documentaries are. Here’s a blog post with a list of the ones from a recent series. They aren’t people who have devoted their lives to studying vaccines, and they are frequently people who benefit financially from their efforts.

      And then there are the parents. Parents tell great stories–tragic stories, sometimes. I totally empathize with them, but the problem is that they aren’t always reliable. For one, some parents blame developmental regression or autism on vaccines, but when we look at the overall population, these things happen at the same rate in children who aren’t vaccinated. This is a really complicated issue, but it’s important to try to see it rationally rather than emotionally. Humans are notoriously bad at judging risk–we are more scared of getting bitten by a shark or struck by lightening than dying in a car accident (which is far more likely). And allowing one parent’s emotional story–true or not–to weigh equally against mountains of evidence from millions of children is a bad way to make decisions.

      Here’s a list of some studies that would be accepted by the vast majority of pediatricians, immunologists, and infectious disease experts. (Might keep you busy for a while.)

      -Chad

  4. Hi, Dr. Hayes. I am interested in legitimate, factual research to defend my decision to vaccinate all of my children. I’ve found no studies to support me. It’s my gut as a mother that leads me to vaccinate but with my last child, 6 years ago, I requested no more than 2 vaccines at a time because of all the “press” about vaccine injury & death. Will you share your supporting studies, please? If not publically, then send me links in an e-mail. Thank you.

    • Annette–thanks for your question, and for your dedication to learning about this topic and making an educated decision for your children. It’s a little hard to answer because there is just SO much evidence. Each vaccine that came out has been studied for safety and effectiveness, then after it is released, studies are done in larger groups of people to detect less common problems.

      To address some of the common concerns:

      This study combined several other studies to look at over 1.2 million children, in order to determine whether the MMR vaccine or the preservatives that were previously used in it increased the risk of autism spectrum disorders. They didn’t.

      This article addresses your specific concern above–that giving vaccines on the schedule has no more side effects than spreading them out.

      There are numerous other studies to show that vaccines are both safer and ore effective than the majority of our medical treatments-in addition to the fact that they actually prevent disease, rather than treating it later. Then you can look at overall trends in specific diseases after those vaccines were introduced. This page provides that data, and you can see for yourself the remarkable decrease in each disease as we began immunizing for it. Some people argue that this is a “correlation” and not a “causation,” meaning that just because A happened and then B happened, doesn’t mean A caused B. But given that nothing else really changed, we have good reason to think vaccines should work, we have antibody tests from blood to show immunity to those diseases after immunization, and the decreases just happen to coincide with the start of the immunization program…I think it’s pretty clear.

      Ideally, we would have a study that divided kids up into 2 groups–1 group that was immunized, and another group that was just like them in every way except that they were not immunized. If you understand why we can’t ethically perform that study, I think you have your answer.

      If you have any other specific questions, let me know. I’d be happy to point you in the right direction. If you can’t find the studies, it’s probably because they’re hard to find…not because they haven’t been done.
      -Chad