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27 Jan, Friday
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Montreal Families

Vaccinations: What Every Parent Needs to Know

I can still recall the panic that flooded over me when a mother told me that the whooping cough vaccine my 2-month-old son was about to receive could cause permanent brain damage. Her supremely confident tone coupled with my new-mother fatigue and worry, sent me into a tailspin.

I’d always assumed vaccinations were safe, perhaps because I’ve seen the devastating effects of the diseases they prevent. I grew up alongside a girl who was deaf because her mother had contacted German measles during her pregnancy. A family friend could only walk with help from crutches, her legs twisted from a childhood bout with polio.

Yet, as I began talking to other parents and checking out bookstores (this was 10 years ago, before Internet research was so easy), I stumbled upon a small but vocal set of people convinced that vaccines harm children. Their arguments against vaccination tapped into a common parental fear — that we may inadvertently harm our children because we don’t have all the necessary information.

So I headed to the pediatrician armed with a long lists of questions, which she answered patiently and thoroughly. Much of that conversation would have been unnecessary if a copy of Your Child’s Best Shot: A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination had been available. Produced by the Canadian Pediatrics Society, the new edition takes a comprehensive and balanced look at the vaccines children will receive in their first 14 years of life, including the new cervical cancer vaccine for girls. (The book is also available in French and called Avoir la piqûre pour la santé de votre enfant.)

Information easily accessible

One of the book’s great strengths — beyond its wealth of information — is the way in which that information is organized. Parents looking for a quick overview can turn to the back where handy fact sheets explain various diseases and the vaccines used against them.

People looking for information on how vaccines are created and tested need only turn to the first two chapters, which clearly and succinctly outline how vaccines in Canada are made and approved for use.

Parents concerned about the short- or long-term effects of vaccines will find a list of government and health agencies that monitor such issues and provide reports that are available to the public.

The majority of the book, however, contains chapters that address particular illnesses such as polio, measles, mumps, hepatitis A, etc. Parents will find an in-depth examination of the causes and complications of these diseases and the history of the vaccines used to prevent them. Information and data are clearly presented, often with easy-to-read charts and tables. Each chapter includes a description of the type of vaccine used, how it is made, when and how it should be given as well as a detailed summary of possible side effects.

In both these chapters and a section entitled “Questions and Answers About Vaccination,” the author draws on well-designed medical studies to refute claims made about the dangers of vaccines. For example, parents may still hear that mercury in vaccines can cause autism. In fact, thimerosal, a type of mercury, is no longer used in routine vaccines on children. Even more importantly, a large-scale study done in Montreal showed that the increase in the number of cases of autism was not related to the amount of thimerosal a child received (in fact autism rates have continued to climb even after thimerosal-free vaccines were introduced in Quebec in 1997-98).

Other studies have shown that vaccines do not cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, Type 1 diabetes or Crohn’s disease.

The author has a warning for parents who are quick to turn to the Internet for answers to their health questions. “No one regulates the validity of information that is available to millions of people,” says the author. “So it is up to you, the consumer, to assess the validity of the information.”

In the chapter entitled “Resources,” parents can find tips on evaluating websites as well as a list of credible Canadian and American sites and resources.

Parents today have access to an unprecedented amount of information about their children’s health and development. But sifting through the data and making sense of the risks is no easy task. Your Child’s Best Shot is an excellent guide for navigating the sometimes worrisome issue of vaccinations. As the book’s title suggests, vaccinations are a key component to ensuring a healthy life for our children. Understanding the ins and outs of vaccination will go a long way towards reassuring parents that those routine shots are worth the time and the occasional tears.

Your Child’s Best Shot: A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination 3rd edition, by Ronald Gold, MD, MPH.
Published by and available through the Canadian Pediatric Society, www.cps.ca or (613) 526-9397. Cost is $21.95.

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