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Childhood vaccines: Tough questions, straight answers

Do vaccines cause autism? Is it OK to skip certain vaccines? Get the facts on these and other common questions.

Updated: 2023-03-28

Part of taking care of kids is setting them up for a healthy future. Vaccines play a big part in health.

Vaccines for illnesses such as diphtheria, rotavirus, polio, tetanus, whooping cough, also called pertussis, and others are given in the first year of life. If these diseases seem uncommon it's because vaccines are doing their job.

Still, you might wonder about the benefits and risks of childhood vaccines. Here are answers to some common questions about childhood vaccines.

Is natural immunity better than vaccination?

No. In general, it is better to prevent sickness by getting vaccinated rather than getting an infection.

Getting infected with a germ may provide some people with a longer lasting immune response but at higher risk. For example, getting a Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacterial infection could lead to permanent deafness, brain damage or even death.

Childhood vaccines protect kids from serious diseases and complications. Vaccines also lower the chance of spreading a disease.

Do vaccines cause autism?

No. Vaccines do not cause autism. Researchers haven't found a connection between autism and childhood vaccines. The original study that ignited the controversy in 1998 was removed from the scientific record, also called retracted, in 2010.

Are vaccine side effects dangerous?

Most vaccine side effects are not dangerous. Any medicine, including vaccines, can cause side effects. Most of the time, these side effects are minor. Some examples are a low-grade fever, headache, fussiness or soreness at the injection site.

Rarely, a child might experience a severe side effect, such as an allergic reaction or a seizure. These are rare side effects, and caregivers and health care providers monitor for them after vaccination.

Of course, vaccines aren't given to children who have known allergies to specific parts of the vaccine. And if your child has a life-threatening reaction to one vaccine, further doses of that vaccine won't be given.

The risk of a vaccine causing serious harm or death is very small. The benefits of getting a vaccine are much greater than the possible side effects for almost all children.

Why are vaccines given so early?

Most babies are born with developing immune systems. Vaccination makes sure a baby has as much protection from disease and disease complications as is safely possible. It also helps prevent babies and children from spreading illness to others.

Vaccines for children are timed carefully. Vaccines are given when protection inherited from the mother fades and the child's immune system is ready, but before kids come in contact with the germs that cause real infections.

Is it OK to pick and choose vaccines?

It's not a good idea to skip some vaccines. That leaves your child without protection. It allows a child to spread disease to others. For some children, such as kids being treated for cancer, their main protection from disease is the immunity of the people around them.

And because diseases are still spreading in many parts of the world, skipping vaccines puts your child at risk in the future.

If you are worried about a certain vaccine, talk about your concerns with your child's health care provider. If your child falls behind the standard vaccine schedule, ask your child's health care provider how to catch up.

Have more questions? Read the vaccine guidance from Mayo Clinic.