What Every Parent Should Know About Vaccines

Watching your child get a shot isn't easy. It's even harder if you have fears or concerns about the safety of or need for the vaccine.

Millions of parents get their kids vaccinated each year without concern. Yet some parents have heard rumors that vaccines can cause serious health problems.

So how can parents get the facts about vaccine safety? Your child's healthcare provider is your first source of reliable information. Healthcare 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?

Yes, vaccines are safe. All vaccines are fully tested before being approved for use by the FDA. Most vaccines contain a partial, weakened, or dead 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.

Diseases like polio and mumps are rare, so why are vaccines needed?

Many of these diseases 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, illness, and even death?

Some children have minor side effects from getting a vaccine like a slight fever or swelling at the injection site. The risk for death or 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. Incorrect rumors persist that an increase in autism in children is caused by thimerosal. This is 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.  

Won't giving babies multiple vaccines at the same time overload their immune system?

Many studies have been done to evaluate the safety of multiple vaccines. None has 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.

What is 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. 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 6. 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 healthcare provider's office will also keep track, people change healthcare providers and records get lost. The person ultimately responsible for keeping track of your child's vaccines is you.

Ask your child's healthcare provider for an immunization record form. Think about your child's record as you would a birth certificate. 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 healthcare 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.

If your child has missed a vaccine dose, you don't have to go back and start over for most vaccines. The previous vaccines are still good. Your healthcare provider will just resume the vaccine schedule. If, for any reason, your child gets additional doses of a vaccine, this is also not a concern. But your child will still need any future doses according to the recommended schedule.

Final tips 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 healthcare provider and ask what symptoms deserve an office call.

  • Ask your healthcare 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 healthcare provider's office if it has an immunization reminder or recall system. This type of system will call to remind you when vaccines are due. It will also warn you if a vaccine dose has been missed.

  • Always bring your immunizations record with you to all of your child's office visits. Make sure the healthcare provider signs and dates every vaccine.

Vaccines are some of the safest and most effective medicines we have. They have made many dangerous childhood diseases rare today.

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.