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Are Vaccines Safe or Risky for Your Kids?

By Kira Goldring
 Getty Images: David McNew
*Updated 2023
A lot of facts and fiction surround vaccines. The same goes for the risk they may or may not pose to human beings, and to children in particular. While this topic has long been a popular one to discuss all year round, especially during flu season, it’s been particularly relevant over the past few years given the Covid-19 vaccines, the fastest-developed and fasted-approved vaccines in history. (And let’s not forget the unexpected measles outbreak that occurred in 2019.) While vaccines have been proven to protect against disease and illnesses, can they potentially harm our children?
Below, we’ll explore three reasons why vaccines are safe for your kids and three reasons why they may be risky.  Please note that none of the arguments in this debate specifically address the Covid-19 vaccines.


Vaccines are safe for your kids


Rewards outweigh possible side effects

While vaccinations aren’t 100% foolproof, the rewards definitely outweigh the possible side effects, which, if they occur, are usually mild and temporary. For example, vaccinating your child against the flu can reduce his or her risk of flu-associated death by 51% among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly 65% among healthy children. In contrast, an unvaccinated child can contract a disease that is vaccine-preventable, such as measles. Also, keep in mind that unvaccinated children can catch vaccine-preventable diseases from other kids or people who don’t even show any symptoms. For instance, Hib meningitis can be spread from people who have the bacteria in their bodies but aren’t even sick. As you can’t tell who in your surroundings is contagious, vaccinating your kids, especially against the regular flu, gives you one less thing to worry about in a world of unforeseen risks.


Who would you trust, if not the experts?

As parents, we tend to be instinctively overprotective of our kids, which is why we turn to health and science experts for help in determining what’s safe or risky for children’s health. Many major health organizations, such as the World Health OrganizationCDC, and FDA, all say that vaccines are safe, relying on decades of studies to back up their claims. Medical experts, who have studied health for most of their professional lives, are overwhelmingly pro-vaccines as well, with some supporting them so strongly that they go as far as dismissing families from their practice if the parents refuse to vaccinate their kids. Of course, there are instances where doctors are wrong, but they are our best bet when it comes to safeguarding our children’s health. After all, they have dedicated their lives to studying and practicing medicine, overseeing the health and long lives of countless patients.


Community immunity

An extended benefit of vaccination is its potential for causing “herd immunity”- also known as community immunity. This is when a large enough portion of a community becomes immunized to disease, thereby limiting the chance of an outbreak within the entire community. Though it may not apply to Covid-19, with other infectious diseases, such community protection can be important for infants, who are too young to be vaccinated. However, a critical number of people need to be vaccinated for this to work; for example, 42,000 people in the United States came down with whooping cough in 2012 after most of the country failed to meet the herd immunity criteria for pertussis vaccinations (92-94%), which was the highest outbreak in the previous 20 years. In other words, if your child isn’t vaccinated, he or she can pose a public health risk and increase the chances of disease outbreaks where you live.


Vaccines may be risky for your kids



Fighting the wrong fight

Just because a vaccine has reduced the risk of disease in the past doesn’t prove that it will apply in the future. Diseases can have many different strains, and vaccines may not always protect against the right ones. For example, according to the CDC, there are years that the flu vaccine has no benefit during periods when the vaccine isn’t matched well to circulating influenza viruses. Or take Gardasil, the HPV vaccine that only assists in protecting against 9 strains of HPV – out of over 100. If these vaccines are indeed fighting against the wrong strains of the disease, they could effectively be ineffective for our children.


The body can defend itself

Unfortunately, illness is an inevitable part of everyday life; it’s next to impossible to ride out an estimated 80-year lifespan without at least catching a good bout of stomach flu. Your kids are no exception to this rule, and their bodies will need to learn how to fight sickness on their own, the same way they may have to learn how to stand up to the bully on the playground. Kids are born with immune systems, which naturally help the body fight off diseases. Yet, it has been argued that giving vaccines to children can potentially prevent the immune system from doing its job, making kids more susceptible to getting sick in the long term.


Medicine can be worse than the disease

Like most preventative medicines, any vaccine can potentially cause side effects. Some may include a sore arm, low fever, fussiness, soreness, a temporary headache, loss of appetite or fatigue. While some of these side effects are rare, like a severe allergic reaction or even a neurological side effect, like a seizure, they can be unpleasant or even fatal. For example, 4 per 100,000 children can develop thrombocytopenia (a decrease in blood platelets which can cause a bleeding disorder) from the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles. Therefore, in certain cases, it can seem like the side effects could pose a more severe threat to your kids than the diseases.


The Bottom Line: Some children’s level of physical development may not be suited for receiving vaccines, but there are extreme and collective health risks associated with not vaccinating children. What do you think? Do you vaccinate your kids?


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