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Health & Exercise Forum

Vaccines and Children: What Every Parent Should Know, Part 3

Apr 22, 2019

Part 3 of 3

(Read Part 1 or Part 2)

This column is a monthly feature of “Health & Exercise Forum” in association with the students and faculty of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

Guest Author: Timothy D. Welby, MD – board certified pediatrician at Pediatrics of NEPA and associate professor of pediatrics at GCSOM.

Dr. Timothy Welby
Dr. Timothy Welby

For centuries, millions of adults and children died around the world of illnesses that are now preventable with vaccinations. In fact, just a generation ago, most Americans knew a family who lost a child to measles or pertussis (whooping cough). Those of that era also knew someone who had been paralyzed for life by childhood polio. But, thanks to modern medicine and science, this is no longer a common occurrence or fear. For example, in 2000, measles was eliminated in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, since 2000, outbreaks of these preventable diseases have reoccurred. In 2015, almost 200 cases of measles were reported at an amusement park in California. Last year, 18 cases were reported in New York in the Orthodox Jewish Communities and this year the count rises again. What do all these outbreaks have in common? Unvaccinated children!

The purpose of this column over the next few weeks is to discuss the prevention of common childhood diseases using vaccinations and to review potential side effects, both real and imagined.

Vaccination Side Effects

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that childhood immunizations are safe and effective to protect children and adults from serious and potentially fatal diseases, many parents remain skeptical and reluctant to get their children immunized. As with any medication given to millions of patients annually, side effects do occur, however, most are mild and self limiting. Side effects include; redness, swelling or pain at the injection site (usually in the front of the thigh in children and the outer upper arm in adults and children over one). These symptoms are uncomfortable but not dangerous. Mild fever is also common after a vaccine or when multiple vaccines are given together and should be treated with ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) for children over 6 months old or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for any age child. Fever, especially in a very young child, may not be a side effect to a vaccine but a sign of infection. High fever or lethargy in an infant or child should always prompt a call to the doctor.

Rarely a child can get an infection at the site of a vaccination. It can look similar to a mild reaction but tends to occur a few days after the injection, not immediately following. Also, some children can get a very high fever after vaccination, more likely after the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) or Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Varicella (MMRV) vaccines which can lead to fever seizures with illness unrelated to the immunization. Measles and chickenpox vaccine can also cause a rash 10 -14 days after immunization, which is harmless but alarming to parents if they are not expecting it.

Measles vaccine may also cause immune thrombocytopenic purpura, a frightening-sounding reaction that occurs when a child’s blood clotting system is affected by the immune system. The condition causes a rash and possible blood clotting problems which can be treated with medication but usually resolves on its own. Rotavirus vaccine, the only oral vaccine routinely given to children, may cause swelling of lymphoid tissue in the intestine called intussusception. It causes a bowel blockage and vomiting and requires urgent medical attention. Fortunately, this reaction is so rare that medical scientists are not sure if it is any more frequent in vaccinated babies as in those unvaccinated. However, what is clear is that prior to routine vaccination against rotavirus, about 60,000 children in the U.S. were hospitalized and 20-60 died each year due to the illness.  The most severe reaction to a vaccine is called anaphylaxis. It is a potentially deadly allergic reaction which occur less than one for every million doses administered. However, due to the life-threatening potential of this reaction, immunizations for children should only be administered in a setting fully equipped to handle this emergency.

Some patients with special needs, such as those with illnesses and immune problems, may not be able to receive certain vaccinations. This is not a complete list of reactions to vaccinations. Always ask your physician any questions you have before your child gets their immunizations.

MMR Vaccine and Autism Controversy

Some parents are hesitant to get their children immunized because they have unfounded fears about vaccine side effects. The biggest recent concerns surround the MMR vaccine and Autism, which arose after a small study linking MMR vaccine and Autism was published in England. The article was discredited and retracted by the journal that printed it. Unfortunately, fear remains despite the fact that there is overwhelming data proving that no connection exists.

Some parents also worry about the effect of multiple vaccines given together might “overwhelm” a young child’s immune system and lead to problems later in life. However, many studies have shown that children with a significant amount of exposures have better immune systems. For example, children who grow up on a farm with a vast number of exposures have better immune systems than their cousins growing up in a city. Ask your family physician or pediatrician … only a phone call away!

In conclusion, the research clearly supports the fact that your child and your community will be far healthier and safer from receiving their vaccinations and the low risk of side-effects and reactions far outweigh the risk of living without vaccination.

For More Information:  Center for Disease Control; The American Academy of Pediatrics; the American Academy of Family Physicians

Source: NEPA Vital Signs - The Journal of the Lackawanna County Medical Society

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.