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posted: 1/14/2013 5:29 AM

Vaccination schedules provide best protection

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By Helen Minciotti
Daily Herald Correspondent

There was no denying her. The cute two-month baby was the spitting image of her preschool and toddler brothers, albeit the mini, female version. The office visit was going well, as the baby smiled at me and the mom recounted how her daughter cooed at grown-ups and already found her older brothers amusing.

When it came time to discuss the two-month vaccinations, I paused, recalling that the mother had requested a staggered vaccine schedule for her older children. I began, "About the vaccines " and the young woman interrupted me. "I am so over that," she admitted as she signed the form giving her approval for three injections and one oral vaccine standard for this age group.

A few -- and thankfully only a few -- parents ask that pediatricians follow alternate vaccine schedules when immunizing their children. I have yet to find any medical evidence that staggering vaccines is beneficial, but continue to encounter some parents who just feel more comfortable spacing out vaccinations.

When I reviewed online sources to see what kind of vaccine information is out there for parents, I was happy to see ready access to a number of reputable medical sources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

I was disturbed, but at the same time a little relieved to see that one of the websites arguing against the standard vaccine schedule referenced British physician Andrew Wakefield, author of a flawed study attempting to link the MMR vaccine with autism.

I was relieved since I knew that Wakefield's study had already been retracted by the journal in which it was originally published. The author subsequently lost his license and is no longer allowed to practice medicine in England. As I always caution parents when researching medical decisions -- consider the source.

Why should parents follow the recommended schedule and allow their children to receive several vaccinations at each well-baby visit? Because, as infectious disease experts Drs. Margaret Fisher and Joseph Bocchini Jr remind readers of the AAP News, "The vaccine schedule has evolved over the past 50 years based on scientific evidence."

That's it in a nutshell: childhood vaccine recommendations are based on hard science, not on best sellers or fringe websites encouraging parental fear.

In her extensively researched parenting book, "Baby 411," pediatrician Dr. Ari Brown, said "Here's a nasty little truth about alternative vaccination schedules: They are all fantasy. There is absolutely no research that says delaying certain shots is safer."

In fact, Fisher and Bocchini caution that spreading out immunizations on alternate schedules leaves a child unprotected against vaccine-preventable diseases for a longer period of time. Delayed immunization not only puts the individual child at risk of infection but also decreases herd immunity, putting the community-at-large at increased risk of communicable diseases.

For parents who fear their little one's immune system will be "overwhelmed" by multiple vaccinations on the same visit, let's put the situation into perspective. CHOP infectious disease specialists note that the current immunization schedule uses "purer" vaccines to introduce a little patient to approximately 150 immunological components made up of bacterial and viral proteins.

Thirty years ago, fewer childhood vaccines were available, providing protection against only half of today's preventable diseases, but exposing a child to over 3,000 of these immunological components.

The CHOP group explains that babies are more immunologically capable than you might think. Infants are typically colonized with "trillions" of bacteria, with each bacterium containing up to 6,000 proteins, so the 150 immunological components introduced by a full series of childhood vaccinations is "minuscule."

Once again, no evidence that babies are being overloaded when the current vaccination schedule is followed as recommended. Interestingly, researchers find that babies experience the same increase in the stress hormone cortisol whether they are receiving one or two shots during the same visit. Therefore, it appears that spacing vaccines prolongs the shot experience, causing additional, unnecessary episodes of baby stress.

Spreading out vaccines also requires more visits to the doctor's office, and really, how many hours do you want to spend sitting in a pediatric waiting room when you can be out having fun with your beautiful baby?

• Dr. Helen Minciotti is a mother of five and a pediatrician with a practice in Schaumburg. She formerly chaired the Department of Pediatrics at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.

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