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Childhood Immunizations: Reducing the Risks

by Sarah Cimperman, ND

Childhood immunization remains a controversial subject, but parents, doctors and health officials can all agree on one thing. Reducing the risk of adverse effects associated with vaccines is a good thing. Parents who choose to have their children immunized can take steps at the doctor’s office and at home to minimize the chance of adverse reactions.

Delay Immunization

Babies are born with immature immune systems that continue to develop during the first four to six months of life. Before they mature, they cannot mount an adequate antibody response to vaccines. Delaying immunization until four months of age, or later, may not only reduce the risk of adverse effects, but it may make shots more effective.

Review the Risks

Certain medical conditions increase the risk of adverse reactions to vaccines and should be discussed with your doctor prior to immunization. These include previous adverse reactions, allergies, autoimmune disease, convulsions, seizures, epilepsy, other neurologic disease and immune system disorders such as HIV, AIDS, cancer and leukemia.

Read Vaccine Info Sheets

Vaccine providers are required to give Vaccine Information Sheets (VIS) for each vaccine administered. Request the VIS prior to the immunization and take time to read them thoroughly. Learn the risks, benefits and ingredients of each vaccine, and discuss any questions with your doctor. Before the injection, request the package insert to verify it is the right vaccine and to ensure it is given correctly.

Check Up Healthy

A doctor should examine children and determine that they are in good health prior to all vaccinations. Postpone shots when signs of illness or fever are present, if the child has been sick recently or if a member of the household is ill.

Take Titers

Before regularly scheduled booster vaccines, ask your doctor to take antibody titers (levels) in the blood. If levels are sufficient, further immunization is unnecessary.

Avoid Allergic Reactions

Vaccines can contain several additives, including formaldehyde, aluminum, yeast, antibiotics and proteins from eggs, chickens, pigs and cows. Also, vaccine vials may include latex stoppers. If your child has any allergies, discuss the potential for allergic reaction with your doctor before scheduling the shot.

Mention Medications

Medications such as steroids, immune globulin and immunosuppressive drugs can interfere with vaccines, as can current or past treatment for cancer and blood or plasma transfusions. Make your doctor aware of all current and recent medications and transfusions. She or he may recommend that you postpone immunization.

Request Thimersol-Free Vaccines

Some vaccines still contain thimersol, a mercury-containing compound used as a preservative. All shots commonly given to preschool children are available in a thimersol-free form, so verify that this is the form being administered to your children.

Select Single Shots

Potential adverse effects are associated with each individual vaccine, but when multiple vaccines are given at once, new adverse effects are possible. Convenient combination vaccines are becoming increasing popular because they save both time and money, but they may not be the safest form of immunization. Reduce the risk of adverse effects by requesting administration of single vaccines at separate office visits.

Take Vitamins

Vitamins A and C are necessary for immune function. Although a healthy diet is essential, taking these nutrients in supplement form before and after immunization can ensure extra support. Vitamin A can be given in the form of cod liver oil and vitamin C is available in both liquid and chewable forms. Talk to your doctor about the dosages that are right for you and your family.

Consider Homeopathy

The homeopathic remedy Thuja is used to treat chronic conditions related to vaccination, but it can also be taken preventatively prior to immunization. After the vaccine, the homeopathic remedy apis can help relieve pain and swelling at the injection site (a cold compress is helpful too).

Identify Adverse Reactions
Prior to immunization, talk to your doctor about possible adverse effects of each vaccine and how to identify them. Recognizing reactions quickly can speed treatment and minimize damage. Common reactions to immunization include fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, drowsiness, irritability, and tenderness and swelling at the site of injection. These symptoms should clear within two days. Contact your doctor immediately if these symptoms last longer than forty-eight hours, or if at any time you observe unusual limpness or pallor, excessive sleepiness and lack of alertness when awake, convulsion, seizure or persistent high-pitched crying for more than three hours.

Keep Your Own Records

Keep records of each vaccine administered, including the date of immunization, the lot number and any adverse reactions. Report adverse effects to both your doctor and to the Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System (www.vaers.hhs.gov or 800-822-7967).

Dr. Sarah Cimperman is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine in private practice in New York City. For more information, call 646-234-2918 or visit www.drsarahcimperman.com.


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