The heavy array of vaccines given to young children in the U.S. doesn’t appear to cause any health problems, a government-advisory body said Wednesday, although it recommended parents’ concerns about the schedule continue to be heard.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend two dozen vaccines be given to kids before age 2, with as many as five vaccines given per doctor visit. Some parents worry that this number of vaccines may overwhelm babies’ immune systems and cause negative reactions, including seizures and autism. Some have pursued alternative schedules by spreading out when doses are administered or choosing only some immunizations.
A committee of the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit that advises the government on health and science issues, looked at research on traditional and alternative schedules and found no evidence of health problems for kids on the recommended vaccine schedule. The panel, made up of 14 physicians and academics, also concluded that there isn’t any credible research that explores whether it is acceptable to deviate from the recommended schedule.
“Delaying vaccination is related to increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases,” said committee member Pauline Thomas, a professor in the department of preventive medicine and community health at New Jersey Medical School, in a conference call about the report.
But, the group recommends the National Vaccine Program Office collect reports of problems related to the vaccine schedule from doctors and parents “regularly and systematically,” according to Alfred Berg, a committee member and professor of family medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“We heard the concerns; we’re interested in getting a more systematic view of the concerns,” said Dr. Berg in an interview. “We actually have no information about moving vaccines back and forth in the schedule or disaggregating” them.
There are few studies of alternative immunization schedules, the panel said, partly because new vaccines are studied within existing recommended schedules. Because of public-health concerns with not immunizing children according to schedule, the panel doesn’t recommend that new studies be undertaken examining an alternative schedule.
Health officials have been concerned for years about some parents’ refusal to vaccinate their children in line with recommendations. If immunization rates dip below a certain threshold in the population, then disease can spread, a particular concern for infants too young to be vaccinated and for children with compromised immune systems.
Peter Pogacar, a physician at East Greenwich Pediatrics in Rhode Island, said that when parents ask him about delaying vaccinations, he tries his best to convince them otherwise by telling them why immunizations are important and the rationale for the vaccine schedule. “If the parents cannot accept the science, I will accept their request to increase the interval of vaccination, but I also point out all the pitfalls,” he wrote in an email.
In recent years in the U.S., there have been several outbreaks of whooping cough, even though there is a vaccine for that disease. Health officials say some of those cases are related to kids not being immunized.
Side effects to immunizations are typically mild, but serious reactions, while rare, do happen. In the 1980s, the government established the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to reimburse individuals for vaccine-related injuries.
“What we can say is there’s just not good evidence about any alternative vaccine schedule,” said Dr. Berg. “Of course there’s good evidence that if you just stop—dropping out vaccines altogether—diseases can return for both the individual and the community. At the extremes it can be a problem.”
Write to Shirley S. Wang at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared January 17, 2013, on page A6 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Kids’ Vaccine Slate Is Backed by Panel