Are MMR (and Other) Vaccinations Safe?
By Gail Belsky
Concerned about the dozens of vaccinations doctors recommend for your child, or just one key injection that’s been the center of much controversy? The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine has certainly received a lot of publicity for its alleged link to autism. But most doctors, and virtually all major health organizations, agree that it is safe -- and that the benefits to both your child and the general population far outweigh any potential side effects or risks.
The Vaccine Safety Debate
The debate about vaccine safety began more than a decade ago when a British medical journal published a study of 12 children suggesting a connection between the MMR vaccine and the development disorder. The study has since been discredited, and the journal withdrew it from publication in February 2010.
So far, researchers have found no evidence of a link. A breakthrough study in 2006 by McGill University Health Centre disproved any connections, and a 2009 review in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases pointed to numerous studies refuting the main theories linking the MMR vaccine to autism. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other researchers continue to study the potential risks of the vaccine -- both for autism and other conditions -- they recommend immunization in order to protect children against these very serious illnesses.
The Facts About MMR
The MMR vaccination has been used in the U.S. for nearly 30 years. Children usually get a first vaccination between the ages of 12 months and 15 months, and a second between the ages of 4 and 6. Most schools require children to be fully immunized before they start. For more than four decades, measles were eliminated from the U.S., but since 2008, there have been outbreaks in 17 states, effecting 137 children and adults who were not vaccinated or were under-immunized.
The Benefits of Vaccination
There’s one huge benefit: The MMR vaccine is virtually guaranteed to protect your child against both measles and mumps -- two very unpleasant and dangerous childhood illnesses (and they’re even worse in adults). The typical symptoms of measles are high fevers, cough, sore and reddened eyes, and a red rash. In rare instances, the virus can cause swelling of the brain.
One out of 30 children with measles will develop pneumonia, according to the National Institutes for Health. And for every 1,000 children who get it, one or two will die. The typical symptoms of mumps include swollen saliva glands, swollen jaw and temple, facial pain, fever, sore throat, and headache. In boys, it can also produce a lump in the testicle, testicle pain and a swollen scrotum. Also, the virus sometimes affects the central nervous system and pancreas.
The Known Risks of Vaccination
In very rare cases, the MMR vaccine may cause a severe allergic reaction, according to the National Institutes of Health. It can also cause long-term seizure, brain damage or deafness -- but the instances of these complications are so rare, many doctors and researchers question whether there really is a connection.
Some parents wonder if spacing out the vaccinations instead of giving many at one visit can minimize the risks. Multiple vaccinations are safe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but if you have questions, you should always ask your child’s doctor.