Among doctors & scientists, childhood immunizations are unanimously considered to be one of the greatest advances of modern medicine. With them we have been able to cause the extinction of one of mankind’s historic scourges, Smallpox (so that we don’t even have to vaccinate against it anymore), we have been able eradicate Polio from the western hemisphere, and vastly reduce the threat posed by many other formerly common and devastating afflictions.
As with ANY medication, surgery, or other treatment – immunizations do have risks and side effects. A risk is the generally rare possibility of some permanent harm coming from the treatment, while a side effect is a more commonly encountered unpleasant reaction that is temporary and causes no real harm. Compared to most other medical therapies, immunizations provide incredibly high benefits at amazingly low costs – in terms of risks, side effects, or money! They are truly the best bargain we physicians have to offer!
Do You Have to Immunize Your Child?
In this office we believe that all children need to be vaccinated on schedule. A decision to withhold or delay vaccines is something we do not condone. Parents wishing to do this will be asked to obtain pediatric care elsewhere.
WHAT ARE VACCINES AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
The immune system consists of a family of cells in your body specialized at recognizing and fighting “foreign invaders” such as germs. These cells live in your bloodstream, your secretions, and in all the tissues of your body. They can remember, and they talk with one another!
The initial process of recognizing an invader is SLOW, and at first if it has never seen that particular type of germ or substance before the immune system fights only WEAKLY. This can give a germ time to take hold and do damage before it meets much resistance. The body’s response is MUCH faster and more forceful if a person’s immune system already knows what the invader looks like. How good a “memory” your immune system has of a particular germ depends partly on how recently it has “seen” the germ before and partly on how “memorable” the germ itself is. After you get over an illness, the immune system remembers and can usually fight the same kind of germ off before it makes you sick if it attacks again within a certain period of time. This is called being “immune”. Some germs produce lifelong immunity after your first encounter with them. Some require several encounters before you are really immune. Others produce immunity that wears off or wanes over time unless your immune system sees the germ again.
Vaccines are simply a way of “introducing” the immune system to a germ without actually putting someone through the full-blown illness associated with it. In this way the immune system has a “memory” of what the germ looks like, can quickly recognize it, and can fight it off easily should the real germ attack. This is accomplished in several ways with different immunizations. Some vaccines are actually living viruses closely related to the disease causing germ but which have been weakened or altered in such a way that they don’t cause illness (e.g. Oral Polio, Measles). Others consist of whole germs which have been killed (e.g. Pertussis). Still other immunizations consist of relatively purified proteins or other substances, usually taken from the germ’s outer coating (e.g. HIB, Tetanus, Diphtheria).
WHO PAYS FOR CHILDHOOD IMMUNIZATIONS?
In Massachusetts most vaccines (and all “required” routine vaccines) are either manufactured directly by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) or purchased by the DPH on bulk contract directly from the manufacturer. The DPH then distributes them free of charge to all physicians, clinics, and other health care providers. The cost of administering immunizations is considerable even when the state provides the vaccine free of charge, however. Not only is there time in paperwork and actual giving of injections, but there are syringes, needles, gauze and alcohol pads, storage facilities and record keeping. For all these reasons, we are allowed to charge a small “administration fee”. We do not charge for the vaccine itself, however, and we will never refuse any patient needed vaccines due to an inability to pay. The result of this is that vaccines have been more widely and easily available in this state than in many others: In Massachusetts, there has been “no excuse” for being behind in immunizations!
WHAT IF MY CHILD GETS SICK OR HAS A BAD REACTION AFTER A VACCINE?
As with any illness, you should first call our office. We may want to see you and examine the child to further evaluate the problem, which may or may not be due to the immunization given. In case it is a problem from the vaccine, write down notes recording not only what happened but the date, time, and what you did about it. All these things can be helpful if you want to make a claim later. Claims for vaccine related injuries can be started by calling 1-800-338-2382 or by visiting the VAERS website.
Thimerosal is a preservative containing a small amount of mercury. Currently all immunizations given through the Department of Public Health & our office, with the exception of the influenza vaccine, are thimerosal-free.
Thimerosol is a common preservative used in multi-dose vials of some immunizations. In the late 1980s and through the early 2000s, there was media-hype about negative aspects to thimerosol-containing products.
There is no negative medical aspect of thimerosol in vaccines. Thimerosol is equivalent to ethyl-mercury (as opposed to methyl-mercury), which has near complete and immediate excretion from the body. As extensive medical investigation has since established, these vaccines are safe and well tolerated.
We keep redundant records of all immunizations. Computer printouts summarizing your child’s entire vaccine history (suitable for use as a school or camp form) – including vaccines given by previous physicians for which we have received records – are available to you at any time, for any reason simply by making a request by telephone or via the form on this web site (please allow 1-2 weeks for printing/mailing). Because of this we do not routinely give “record booklets” for you to carry with you – in our experience these are commonly lost or forgotten anyway. Please request School Forms early enough! Because of privacy policies and regulations we cannot send these by FAX.