April 21-28 is National Infant Immunization Week in the US. This annual observance is set up as a time to promote the benefits of immunization and to celebrate the milestones reached in controlling vaccine-preventable illness in children. This year the campaign goes global, with the World Health Organization sponsoring the first ever World Immunization Week.
Unfortunately, immunization has become a bit of a lightning rod issue. The recent debate over AB 2109 in California has made me realize, more than ever, how bitter the discussion over immunization has become. And, it seems to me that much of it has to do with information about vaccines- where we get it, who is telling us, and what we choose to believe. The hard part for parents at this point is that it is sometimes very difficult to separate fact from fiction. So, here are a few resources that I hope can help parents as they try to make the best decision regarding immunizations for their children.
Internet resources: In my opinion, it is not a good idea to simply do a google search when you are looking for information about vaccines. Find a few trusted sites and go back to them when you have new questions. My go-to sites for scientifically sound, readable information are:
- National Network for Immunization Information “The mission of the National Network for Immunization Information (NNii) is to provide the public, health professionals, policy makers, and the media with up-to-date, scientifically valid information related to immunization to help them understand the issues and to make informed decisions.”
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center “The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center provides complete, up-to-date and reliable information about vaccines to parents and healthcare professionals.”
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention section on Vaccines and Immunizations.
- For a more creative and personal approach, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson and Dr. Natasha Burgert, both pediatrician/mothers, have contributed much to the discussion with their informative, well written posts on immunization topics.
Print resources: Do Vaccines Cause That?! A Guide for Evaluating Vaccine Safety Concerns by Martin Myers MD and Diego Pineda is the best overall print resource I have found addressing vaccine safety. The authors address common concerns regarding vaccine side effects and safety. They weigh the evidence regarding any association of immunizations with autism, asthma, and other medical conditions. They describe how to identify misinformation and the differences in the ways that lay press versus the scientific community may talk about vaccines. It is a very useful read for both health care providers and parents.
Other advice: Critically evaluate information presented to you. Consider the source. I reviewed suggestions for doing this in a previous post, and it certainly applies here. If you have concerns about a particular vaccine or vaccine-related issue, print out information that you find and bring it to your child’s next well child visit. Open a dialogue with your child’s health care provider.
Finally, I’ll say this. Immunization has become an emotionally charged topic. In recent weeks I have seen people on both sides of the debate use words like “moron” and “evil” to describe those who disagree with them. Resorting to name calling or attacking a person’s character instead of addressing the facts of the argument itself may be easier (especially online), but it doesn’t get us any further along in keeping kids healthy. Nor does it set a good example of how to treat others. We must stick to the facts if we truly desire to do what is best for our children and our communities.