IOM stresses: Vaccine schedule for children is safe

Ninety percent of youths receive most CDC-recommended vaccines by kindergarten. But some parents delay immunizations due to perceived health concerns.

By — Posted Jan. 25, 2013

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A new Institute of Medicine report confirms what many primary care physicians have been telling parents for years — it’s safe to follow the recommended childhood immunization schedule.

Under the schedule, children receive as many as 24 vaccines by their second birthday and get up to five injections during a single doctor’s visit, the IOM said. The immunizations are timed to protect children from 14 pathogens by inoculating them at a point in their lives when they are most vulnerable to disease, according to the IOM.

But some parents worry that administering the immunizations in such a short period could cause negative health effects in their children.

The IOM report, issued Jan. 16, said there is no evidence that the schedule, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is unsafe (link).

“The evidence repeatedly points to the health benefits of the recommended schedule, including protecting children and communities from serious and life-threatening diseases,” said IOM panel member Alfred Berg, MD, MPH. He is a professor in the Dept. of Family Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

Thomas K. McInerny, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said he hopes the report will help pediatricians in their vaccine conversations with parents.

“Pediatricians and parents have the same goal of giving children the best start in life,” he said. “Vaccines play an essential role in protecting children from harm.”

Parents wary of immunizations

Ninety percent of youths receive most of the CDC-recommended vaccines by the time they enter kindergarten, CDC data show. But some parents delay or forgo immunizations due to concerns that the recommended schedule could overburden or weaken an infant’s immune system, physicians say.

The 14-member IOM panel that wrote the report included experts in biology, epidemiology, neurology and pediatrics. Panel members examined more than 40 studies published between 2002 and 2012 on the health outcomes and safety of the childhood immunization schedule.

The panel said there is no research that links adherence to the schedule to children developing asthma, attention deficit or disruptive disorders, autoimmune diseases, learning or developmental problems, or seizures.

“The take-away message is that the schedule is safe,” said IOM panel member Pauline A. Thomas, MD. She is an associate professor in the Dept. of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School in Newark.

The report recommends that the National Vaccine Program Office develop more detailed information on the safety of the immunization schedule so doctors can better educate families about vaccines.

The IOM panel also called for the continued study of the schedule using data systems such as the Vaccine Safety Datalink. The data link is a collaboration of the CDC and nine other managed care organizations to monitor immunization side effects.

Austin, Texas, pediatrician Ari Brown, MD, suggests that physicians use the IOM report as another tool to help assure parents who are worried about childhood vaccines that “what we’re doing is correct.”

The findings show that “there is no reason to selectively vaccinate or do fewer shots at one time,” Dr. Brown said. “There’s no benefit.”

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