By: Nancy Shute, National Public Radio
11 October 2010
At 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, moms and babies are gathering at Angela Shogren’s townhouse in Alexandria, Va. As the babies try to crawl across the basement floor, the moms talk about breastfeeding and lack of sleep. One issue keeps coming up: vaccines.
“I am from Peru,” says Vanessa Vohden, mother of 4-month-old Santiago. “Polio – it’s still there. I grew up seeing kids in wheelchairs from polio. So I am definitely pro-immunization.”
The other moms are pro-immunization, too. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have big questions about the vaccines their babies get. They worry about the number of vaccines that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for children: more than 20 by age 2, including the new recommendation for seasonal flu shots for all children 6 months and older.
Vaccines have tamed killers like smallpox, polio and measles; they may well be medicine’s greatest triumph. But newer vaccines, like the ones for whooping cough and chicken pox, don’t always give such great protection.
The moms at the get-together wonder if it would be easier on babies’ brand-new immune systems to spread those shots out. And they wonder if vaccines for diseases like chicken pox, which usually causes mild illness, are really necessary.
“I think natural immunity for non-serious illnesses like chicken pox may be better than getting the vaccines,” says Katie Combs, mother of 6 1/2-month-old Charlotte.
Different Levels Of Immunity
It turns out that there are no simple answers to the question of whether natural immunity caused by exposure to a germ is better than the industrial version. “It varies from vaccine to vaccine,” says Samuel Katz, an inventor of the measles vaccine and a chairman emeritus of pediatrics at Duke Medical School.