Childhood vaccination is a critical tool in helping provide immunity against potentially life-threatening diseases. Adhering to the recommended vaccine schedule is an important piece of that.
In addition to those not following the vaccine schedule, overall childhood vaccination rates are declining. During the 2020-21 school year, national coverage with state-required vaccines among kindergarten students declined from 95% to approximately 94%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Parents’ reasons for choosing not to vaccinate or diverging from the schedule can vary. The decision may come down to worries about the safety of vaccines, concerns about the schedule itself, or simple busyness. No matter what causes parents to deviate from the vaccine schedule, choosing to do so can carry negative consequences.
Why to Vaccinate
“Advancements in vaccine development have helped keep children from getting many serious illnesses,” says Dr. Ann Jones, a Pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton. “As a result, today’s generations can help avoid childhood bouts of chickenpox, measles, and other deadly illnesses, because they’re vaccinated.”
Vaccination helps prevent serious illness and death, even for some vaccines that aren’t as effective, Dr. Jones says. For example, studies show that vaccinated children are less likely to need hospitalization or to die from the flu, even if they get sick.
“We also think of it from a public health standpoint,” Dr. Jones says. “Increased vaccination rates can reduce the spread of vaccine-preventable illness. This can help protect those who aren’t vaccinated, either by choice or because it’s not safe for them to receive vaccines.”
Stick to the Schedule
Especially for infants and young children, parents often wonder whether it’s safe for kids to receive multiple vaccines at one time. This may lead to a desire to follow a different schedule.
Experts have conducted many studies to evaluate the safety of multiple vaccines. None has shown that multiple vaccines cause a problem.
“Over the past 24 years I’ve been a pediatrician, I’ve seen children get very sick or die from complications of several vaccine-preventable illnesses,” Dr. Jones says. “Conversely, it’s rare that a child experiences a serious vaccine reaction.”
Beyond that, spacing out vaccines or separating them will require more frequent visits to the doctor for shots. Studies show that children experience a similar amount of stress whether they get one vaccine or several vaccines in the same visit. For this reason, having more “shot visits” at the doctor increases children’s stress, but it does not protect them, Dr. Jones says.
Can Vaccines Make You Sick?
Parents might also question whether it’s possible for vaccines to make someone sick with the illness they’re supposed to prevent. Some vaccines — like MMR, varicella, rotavirus, and the nasal flu vaccine — are “live vaccines.” Most vaccines, however, are not live vaccines.
“It might sound like live vaccines can make you sick, but they’re attenuated,” Dr. Jones says. “That means if you get sick from the vaccine, the virus is weaker than the ‘wild type.’”
Getting sick from attenuated live vaccines is usually of most concern for individuals with serious underlying illnesses, Dr. Jones says. These include people undergoing chemotherapy or those who have serious immune deficiencies. People who fall into this category typically do not receive live vaccines.
Staying Up to Date
If you’re unsure whether your child is up to date on their vaccines, you can verify using one of two resources.
- Log in to your child’s MyThedaCare account and select Immunizations.
- Visit the Wisconsin Immunization Registry.
Children can receive vaccines through ThedaCare regardless of insurance status. If your child needs a vaccine or to schedule a wellness visit, you can make an appointment using MyThedaCare.
Dr. Jones urges parents and guardians to get their children up to date on all vaccines prior to the beginning of the school year.
“I want to encourage families to make an educated decision when it comes to vaccinations,” she says. “If you have questions, please talk with your care team. We want to empower families with knowledge and information so they can support their children as we begin another school year.”