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The growing number of vaccines recommended for babies and children, coupled with concern over potentially toxic ingredients, has left many parents worried and confused. Here, Dana Point, Calif., pediatrician Robert "Dr. Bob" W. Sears, M.D., author of the newly published The Vaccine Book (Little, Brown), shares his insights:
Q. What are the real concerns about vaccines?
A. Overall, vaccines are safe and effective at preventing diseases. However, they do have some rare—but serious—side effects, such as seizures, nerve and muscle weakness and brain inflammation. Since most doctors can't spend the time necessary to discuss all the pros and cons of vaccinations, parents should be informed of these slight risks and weigh them against the dangers of the diseases themselves.
Q. Are there any potential risks associated with the American Academy of Pediatrics' current vaccine schedule?
A. The AAP schedule recommends that young infants receive a combination of as many as six injections during each of their 2-, 4- and 6-month checkups. If a baby has a bad reaction, it's difficult to identify which vaccine is the culprit. Also, many chemicals in vaccines, such as aluminum and formaldehyde, are known carcinogens or are potentially toxic to young brains when given in doses that are too high. Giving fewer shots per visit, as well as spacing them out over several years instead of giving them within one year, allows the body to better process and eliminate these chemicals without compromising protection. (See "Dr. Bob's Alternative Vaccination Schedule" below.)
Q. Is mercury still a concern?
A. With the exception of two brands of flu shots, mercury is no longer used to preserve vaccines. Nevertheless, I recommend mercury-free flu shots for babies or none at all; your doctor should carry mercury-free brands, so be sure to request them specifically.
To limit side effects and avoid chemical overload, pediatrician Robert W. Sears, M.D., author of The Vaccine Book (Little, Brown), recommends the following vaccination schedule for babies and toddlers ages 2 months to 3 1/2 years. It starts with vaccines against diseases that are most dangerous to young children, then follows with shots for rare and/or usually mild diseases. (Visit cispimmunize.org for the AAP's recommended schedule.)
* The Measles shot is also recommended at 3 years.