Follow the Right Path: A Traditional Vaccine Schedule

January 24, 2020 5:00 AM

In light of recent infectious disease outbreaks, a Michigan Medicine expert discusses vaccine schedule fact versus fiction.

Calendar with vaccination date circled in red

Once-forgotten diseases have returned to the forefront of everyone’s attention after outbreaks like the recent Measles cases.

Unvaccinated children are around 25 times more likely to get contagious diseases like Measles, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

And unfortunately, unvaccinated children make up a large proportion of children in Michigan. According to I Vaccinate, only 59% of Michigan toddlers are up to date on all of their recommended vaccines.

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On a larger scale, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.

SEE ALSO: What’s Causing the Latest Measles Outbreak?

“Misconceptions about the recommended vaccine schedule, or vaccines in general, have led parents to opt out or delay vaccines, putting their children and others at risk of preventable diseases,” says Aarti Raheja, M.D., a pediatrician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The alternative vaccine schedule

Some parents worry combination vaccines may harm their baby or overwhelm their immune system. This causes parents to delay certain vaccines or follow an alternative, or non-standard vaccine schedule.

“The CDC refers to the alternative schedule as non-standard as opposed to alternative, which is how I address it with families because there isn’t an alternative,” says Raheja. “No research has been done on non-standard schedules, so we don’t know if they are safe or if a child would be protected.”

The 2019 recommended childhood and adolescent immunization schedules have been approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Raheja adds: The recommended vaccine schedule is the only evidenced-based schedule that has been researched for safety and efficacy.  It provides all the necessary protection that can be given to children with the least amount of risk.

Vaccines are added to the schedule based on when an infant is likely to be most susceptible to the disease. Administering vaccines at scheduled intervals provides the broadest immunologic protection to children when they’re most vulnerable, minimizes the number of shots needed and office visits.

Getting all the recommended vaccines at one visit provides the best protection. Studies have shown that spacing out vaccinations over multiple visits causes children more stress and leaves them vulnerable to disease, according to Raheja.

"The CDC refers to the alternative schedule as non-standard as opposed to alternative, which is how I address it with families because there isn’t an alternative."
Aarti Raheja, M.D.

More protection, fewer antigens

Children are exposed to between 2,000 and 6,000 antigens, or foreign substances, every day. When a germ is introduced in the body, it takes time for the body to make antibodies to fight it off. Then, the immune system learns how to protect the body from that germ, acting as insurance for any potential future encounter with the disease. Vaccines work in a similar way instead of having to experience symptoms of the actual disease.

Although there could be side effects like a mild fever or muscle ache, the CDC says getting several immunizations at the same time doesn’t cause any chronic health problems. Even though children receive more vaccines now than 40 years ago, the amount of antigens entering the body are significantly less than what babies encounter naturally in their environment, even if they receive multiple vaccines on one day, according to I Vaccinate.

Collectively, vaccines contain only around 173 antigens in 12 vaccines given that protect children and teens against 16 vaccine-preventable diseases. This drastically differs from 1980, when the recommended vaccines possessed a total of 15,000 antigens.

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Unfortunately, however, not everyone has the benefit of getting vaccinated. According to Raheja, some immunocompromised individuals and infants can’t get vaccinated for certain illnesses, so getting vaccinated not only protects you but you can help others avoid serious illness and death.

Referred to as herd immunity, Raheja hopes people take away the idea that we have a commitment to our community to protect each other by vaccination

“It affects your family and everyone around you,” she says. “Vaccine preventable diseases are still a significant threat. When people opt out or delay vaccines, there will be outbreaks that result in significant illness and death. That’s how high the stakes can be.”

For more information on common vaccine questions, visit the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital’s website.