It seems like the perfect compromise. You want to protect your child from illness, but you’re leery of vaccines. So you ask your pediatrician to “space them out” — to give no more than one or two per visit, or per month, or to skip a few for now.
You’re not refusing the couple of dozen shots recommended for the first two years of life, you’re just….delaying. And you have plenty of company: Parenting Websites teem with descriptions of the alternative vaccine schedules that mothers and fathers invent (examples here and here) or borrow from a popular book. So what could be bad?
Well, several things, say pediatricians and vaccine experts concerned about the widespread vaccine-spacing phenomenon. To begin with, they say, the premise that a simultaneous volley of shots could be too much for your child’s immune system needs to be put in context: Children’s immune systems are exposed to a constant barrage of foreign proteins, and vaccines are engineered to produce as focused an immune response as possible.
More broadly, here’s the big picture from Dr. Allison Kempe, a University of Colorado School of Medicine professor of pediatrics who researches popular resistance to vaccines:
“It’s a very small subset of parents who totally refuse vaccines,” she said, “but it’s an increasing number, and a much higher number, that are asking to space them out. And that results in the child being unprotected for longer periods of time. It may result in outbreaks of disease and it may mean that because the vaccines are spaced out, the child doesn’t actually end up getting all of them because it involves coming in for so many appointments.”
“The other thing is that I don’t know whether it’s a lot more traumatic for a child to constantly be coming in for a shot. All those things are unknown. And there’s absolutely no science behind it, that’s the biggest thing.”
Dr. Ben Kruskal, a vaccine expert and director of infection control at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, offers a similar view from the pediatric trenches. I’ve broken down his concerns here into five parts:
1) Prolonged Vulnerability
“The most potent reason why spacing is problematic is that the more you spread things out, the more time kids are vulnerable to infections they could be protected from,” he said. “The extra time of vulnerability you’re adding to a child’s life is really quite considerable, and that’s not a trivial thing.”
(Particularly because, as CDC vaccine-communication expert Glen Nowak points out, the diseases that vaccines can prevent are particularly dangerous when they occur in the youngest children.)
2) Potential Added Trauma and Fear Continue reading