The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that "The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child" by popular doctor Robert Sears contains recommendations for vaccines that conflict with its own and are dangerous.
In an article in its journal Pediatrics the AAP doesn't mince words, accusing Sears of stoking fears about vaccine safety and misrepresenting the science behind the group's immunization policy.
The article's authors say the book, published in 2007, supports delaying, withholding, or spacing out vaccines; endorses the idea of natural immunity through methods such as "chickenpox parties"; and does not distinguish between credible science and poorly conducted studies.
Sears endorses alternative vaccination schedules; for instance, splitting the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, normally given all at once, into separate vaccinations spread over several years, "to prevent overloading kids' immune systems." Conceding that he has no research showing that giving the MMR and chickenpox vaccines together is dangerous, Sears nonetheless argues that parents should have their children protected against the diseases gradually.
The AAP is addressing Sear's controversial recommendations to coincide with the release of its updated childhood vaccination schedule, which, in accordance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), now includes recommendations for a flu shot for all kids 6 months of age and older and a two-dose schedule for the rotavirus vaccine.
The AAP's article also emphasizes the safety and efficacy issues associated with following an alternative vaccine schedule, such as that proposed by Sears. "In an effort to protect children from harm, Sears' book will likely put more in harm's way," the AAP says, because Sears' schedules will increase the time during which kids are susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases — and with fewer kids protected, more outbreaks of these diseases would likely follow.
What This Means to You
Since the start of widespread vaccination programs in the United States, cases of formerly common childhood illnesses like measles and diphtheria have declined dramatically. Immunizations have protected millions of kids from potentially deadly diseases and saved thousands of lives. In fact, certain diseases crop up so rarely now that parents sometimes ask if vaccines are even necessary anymore.
This is just one common misconception about immunizations. But in fact, infectious diseases that are rare or nonexistent in the United States because of immunization programs — like measles and polio — are still huge problems in other parts of the world. This makes these diseases just an airplane ride away, as demonstrated recently by measles epidemics affecting unvaccinated U.S. children that were triggered by one infected person entering the country. The reality is that vaccinations still play a crucial role in keeping kids healthy.
It is true that a single child's chance of catching a disease is low if everyone else is immunized. Yet if one person thinks about skipping vaccines, chances are that others are thinking the same thing. And each child who isn't immunized gives these highly contagious diseases one more chance to spread.
It's important to make sure kids get all of the immunizations they need at every age — not just in the infant and toddler years, when most vaccines are given. In fact, routine vaccines and boosters are also recommended between the ages of 4 and 6, 11 and 12, and then again before teens enter college.
And parents should stay up to date with all of their shots. Some childhood vaccines — like the whooping cough vaccine — don't provide lifelong immunity, which means they lose their effectiveness over time. So, not only could you catch some potentially serious diseases, but you could pass them on to your kids, too.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2009
Source: "The Problem With Dr Bob's Alternative Vaccine Schedule," Pediatrics, January 2009.