Up to 40 percent of U.S. parents choose to delay or skip their kids’ recommended vaccines, believing that spacing out shots will be healthier for their children. But altering the vaccine schedule doesn’t provide any discernible health benefits, and actually ends up leaving children more at risk, according to a new study.
Even though a large body of research has confirmed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended vaccination schedule is safe and effective, some parents are wary of giving their kids several different shots during the same doctor’s visit. On top of that, persistent myths about vaccines’ link to autism — conspiracy theories that are often given more airtime by prominent celebrities — have stoked some parents’ fears that vaccinating their kids will do more harm than good.
But the evidence says otherwise. A study recently published in the Pediatrics journal finds that delaying the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) sometimes leads to more health issues down the road. In fact, it can slightly increase kids’ risk of fever-induced seizures.
That risk appears to be very small, and the seizures won’t cause permanent damage. Nonetheless, the researchers say their findings underscore the fact that the CDC’s schedule is important. “It’s one more reason we would recommend following the guidelines,” Dr. Simon Hambidge, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Colorado in Denver and the lead author of the study, noted.
It’s not clear exactly why putting off the MMR vaccine can increase the risk of seizures, although the study authors suggest that it could simply be a matter of timing. The kids who aren’t following the federal schedule may be receiving the shot at a later stage in their life when their immune systems are more vulnerable to these type of fevers.
Aside from that new finding, there are other significant disadvantages to delaying shots. Most problematically, kids who aren’t vaccinated are left vulnerable to infectious diseases like measles for longer than necessary. “Delaying also makes for increased visits to the doctor’s office, along with the time and hassle and risk of exposure to other infectious diseases in the doctor’s office,” Hambidge told Scientific American.
Meanwhile, there’s no proof that there are any positive health benefits to putting off children’s shots to outweigh the drawbacks. The supposed link between vaccines and autism has been thoroughly debunked. And kids who don’t follow the federal vaccination schedule don’t perform any better on behavioral or cognitive assessments.
Previous research has found that the parents who choose to delay their kids’ vaccines tend to be skeptical about the benefits of vaccination in general, and don’t trust scientists’ opinions on the subject. This type of unscientific approach to inoculation leads some parents to claim “philosophical objections” to the vaccines required before their children start school — a trend that’s been directly tied to infectious disease outbreaks.
This dynamic is playing out before our eyes. The United States is currently in the midst of a record-breaking measles outbreak that’s been attributed to people failing to get the MMR shot. Nonetheless, it’s incredibly hard to change parents’ minds about this; even disease outbreaks don’t always convince more people to vaccinate their kids.