The importance of immunizations: part 2

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By Lori Patterson, M.D., FAAP

When it comes to their children’s immunizations, some parents are choosing to listen to more than their doctor for information. Parents and caregivers are getting medical advice from message boards, blogs and other online sources. As a result, concerns and rumors have spread regarding the safety and purpose of vaccines. Dr. Lori Patterson, pediatric infectious disease specialist, responds to common questions and misconceptions of immunizations.


Do immunizations or thimerosal cause autism?


[dc]A:[/dc] Numerous studies have found absolutely no link between vaccines and autism. Still, to reduce exposure to the tiny amount of mercury contained in thimerosal (a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines), vaccine manufacturers started removing the chemical from vaccines in 1999. Most vaccines for children now contain no thimerosal. The autism claim was made in a 1998 paper concerning a possible link to the MMRvaccine; the paper was retracted in 2004, and its lead author was found guilty of fraud.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have all rejected any link between autism and any vaccine.


Why should I vaccinate my child against diseases that are rare or close to elimination?


[dc]A:[/dc] While a disease may be rare or nonexistent in the United States, they can still cause problems elsewhere in the world. Vaccines are necessary to protect against contracting these diseases through travel. This includes Americans traveling overseas and those who bring in a disease with them while visiting the United States. When a disease becomes completely eradicated worldwide, it is then safe to stop vaccinations for that disease, but so far the only infection we’ve been able to do that for is smallpox.


How long does a vaccine’s immunity work?


[dc]A:[/dc] Some vaccines, such as the series for measles, can last for an entire lifetime. Others can last for years but require follow-up shots (boosters) periodically. These boosters allow for continuing immunity against a disease. The tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster (Tdap) keeps children and adults from losing their immunity to these diseases. Be sure to keep a good record of your child’s immunizations to help your doctor know when it’s time to give a booster.


Should I give my child the HPV vaccine?


[dc]A:[/dc] Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines protect against strains of the virus which cause most cases of cervical cancer. Girls aged 11 or 12 should receive the vaccine, and it is also recommended for those aged 13 through 26 who have not been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series. For each licensed vaccine, experts have found that the benefits of preventing the disease far outweigh any risk from the vaccine. Boys and men can also get vaccinated with the HPV vaccine to prevent transmitting cancer-causing types of HPV to women. The vaccine also helps prevent genital warts, one of the most common sexually-transmitted diseases.

Lori Patterson, M.D., FAAP specializes in pediatric medicine and infectious disease at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.  For more information please visit the Children’s Hospital website (

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