Vaccines and the New Mom

Make informed vaccine decisions for the health of your child

woman giving shot to baby

One doesn’t have to look far back in history to see that families commonly experienced suffering and death from diseases such as diphtheria, measles, polio, and whooping cough. Fortunately, thanks to vaccines, these diseases are now relatively rare.

Vaccines contain antigens — “live” versions of the bacteria and virus they are protecting against. Antigens work by tricking the immune system into thinking it has been exposed to the disease. Our immune system uses these antigens to remember what viruses and bacteria look like. This recognition allows the immune system to protect against future infections from the disease you’re vaccinated against.

“Vaccine-preventable diseases have declined dramatically in the U.S., but they still occur and cause pediatric hospitalizations and deaths every year. Vaccines are safe and effective, and staying up to date with childhood vaccinations is one of the most important things you can do to protect your child’s health,” says Ritu Banerjee, MD, PhD, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist from Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Overall, the benefits of preventing diseases with vaccines far outweigh the risks associated with the diseases they protect against. Vaccines are given to children at young ages because that is when they have the highest risk of having complications or dying from these diseases. However, many new moms are faced with conflicting information about vaccines. Here are Banerjee’s answers to a few common misconceptions about vaccines:

Is an infant’s immune system mature enough for vaccines?
Yes. A baby’s immune system is fully developed, but inexperienced. It has all of the parts needed to fight diseases. Vaccines expose the child to the antigens needed for their immune system to recognize the disease for protection without giving them the actual disease. Modern vaccines contain far fewer antigens than the original versions decades ago. As science progresses, vaccines keep getting safer.

Are vaccines well-studied?
The medical literature contains many thousands of studies on vaccines, spanning more than 100 years. That includes cellular and molecular studies, safety studies, long-term population studies, animal studies, single and combined vaccine studies, vaccine delivery methods, and much more. Studies are done by a wide range of people around the world, including independent university studies, government labs, and drug companies.

Are additives in vaccines safe?
Ingredients in vaccines are tested for safety. In fact, they are used to make vaccines safer, and to help them last longer and work more effectively. Some people worry about the added ingredients because they have chemical-sounding names. However, just because something has a chemical-sounding name, it does not mean it is dangerous.

Do vaccines cause autism?
No. The vast majority of autistic individuals have abnormal brain development. They are born that way, and vaccines don’t change that. Previous generations were not tested for autism. Today, the tests for autism are very different than they used to be, and the definition of autism includes a wider variety of symptoms. Testing has also become much more common, leading to improved detection and an apparent rise in autism cases. Twenty years ago, very mild cases were not included, or even tested for, whereas they are today. Now autism is considered a spectrum of diseases.

Our family eats healthy foods. Doesn’t that protect us against diseases?
Paying attention to proper nutrition is important for your family. A good diet is vital to maintaining good health and a healthy weight, and it is a big contributor to a strong immune system. That being said, people who eat healthy diets can still catch infectious diseases. Those with healthier diets are often better able to fight off infections, but vaccination shoul