Every pediatrician has received phone calls at home, often late at night, from parents concerned about their children’s symptoms, says Dr. Saad Saad, a noted pediatric surgeon. Rashes, fevers, severe cough, headache, sore throat. Parents ask: Should we be worried?
In this article, Dr. Saad, who is now retired, contributes his thoughts and opinions on the hot-button top of vaccinations. To be clear, he supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Immunization Schedule. As a parent and a pediatrician, he understands a parent’s worries about their child’s health. He offers his best advice — encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.
Has Your Child Been Vaccinated?
The pediatrician’s advice will be initially based on one simple question: Has the child received vaccinations for measles, whooping cough, Hib meningitis, and rotavirus?
If the children have been vaccinated, the pediatrician can reassure these parents that their children are protected from these infectious diseases.
If the children have not been vaccinated, the doctor-parent conversation is very different. These parents will need to nurse their sick, miserable child for several days — missing school and work. In some cases, parents must get that sick child to an emergency room very quickly as the disease may be life-threatening.
There’s another factor: the sick child has already infected others at school. The disease spreads among children who have not been vaccinated — in some cases, causing severe complications.
Official Stance of Pediatricians and Family Doctors like Dr. Saad Saad
As a pediatrician, Dr. Saad Saad bases his advice on scientific evidence, which consistently has supported childhood vaccinations. Dr. Saad also respects the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
AAP president Sandra G. Hassink, MD, provides a strong statement: “As a physician, giving parents the advice that it’s ok to skip vaccines, or that measles is not a big deal, is harmful and dangerous. It ignores the fact that immunizations are one of the most effective strategies we have for preventing disease.
“To be perfectly clear, there is no “alternative” immunization schedule,” Dr. Hassink adds. “Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease for a longer period of time … it does not make vaccinating safer. There is no alternative if you want the optimal protection for your child,”
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) believes that immunization is essential to preventing the spread of contagious diseases. Vaccines are especially important for at-risk populations such as young children and older adults. The AAFP offers vaccination recommendations, immunization schedules, and information on disease-specific vaccines.
Addressing Confusion About Vaccines
Dr. Saad Saad recognizes the confusion about vaccines, and wants to clear up misunderstandings. He provides historical insight on vaccine development — focusing on the first vaccine that was developed — the smallpox vaccine.
Smallpox was a deadly illness that killed hundreds of millions of people until the vaccine was developed in the late 19th century. The vaccine was given to many people, and by the 1980s smallpox was reported eradicated worldwide.
Smallpox is the only disease to be completely destroyed. Polio and mumps are close to being eradicated.
Without the smallpox vaccine, millions of people would certainly die. Instead, because the disease is eradicated, there is no more need for vaccination. That is the power of a vaccine.
Vaccines prevent the spread of contagious, dangerous diseases — measles, polio, mumps, chicken pox, diphtheria, whooping cough, and HPV, says Dr. Saad Saad.
What Exactly Is A Vaccine?
Most vaccines are created from a weak form of the disease germ which is injected (in a shot) into a leg or arm. Your body will detect the germs (antigens) and produce antibodies to fight them. Those antibodies will stay in your body for a long time — often, for the rest of your life.
With a vaccine, any exposure to the disease will trigger your body to fight it off, which means you are immune to it. You won’t ever get the disease, so you get the protection without being sick. This keeps you from spreading the disease.
Vaccines aren’t necessary for every disease, says Dr. Saad Saad. Cold viruses, for example, are generally mild and don’t cause complications. However, viruses like polio and smallpox cause disability and even death. Preventing your child from contracting these illnesses is critical.
How Does Immunity Work?
Dr. Saad Saad explains the mechanism of immunity: When you get vaccinated, your body builds up defenses that fight specific germs — aka, immunity. To build up the immune system, the body must be exposed to a specific germ.
The first time your body is exposed to that germ, it produces antibodies to fight it. Building a natural immunity to a germ takes time. During that time, you could get sick again. However, because the antibodies stay in your body, they will attack the germ the next time — so you don’t get sick.
The 5 Best Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child
Vaccinations can save your child’s life, and are just as important as baby gates, car seats, and outlet covers, says Dr. Saad Saad. Vaccines protect your child from diseases that once disabled or killed thousands of children.
#1 – Today, many serious diseases have been eradicated or are close to extinction — all due to safe, effective vaccines. Polio caused paralysis and death across America, and was the country’s most-feared disease. But due to a safe vaccine, there have been no reports of polio today.
#2 – Vaccines are very safe and effective. Vaccines are only given to children after scientists, doctors, and healthcare professionals have studied them for a long time.
Rarely are there serious side effects following a vaccination; this might be a severe allergic reaction. Dr. Saad Saad agrees with scientists that the disease-prevention benefits of getting vaccines are much greater than any possible side effects for almost all children.
#3 – Vaccines protect all the children. Children in the U.S. still get diseases that are vaccine-preventable. In fact, there has been a resurgence of measles and whooping cough (pertussis) over the past few years.
Many have involved babies who were too young to be fully vaccinated, and died from the disease. Others might not be able to get vaccinations due to allergies or medical problems that weaken their immune systems. Getting your children vaccinated helps prevent the spread of diseases, which helps protect all children.
#4 – Vaccines save you time and money. If your child is sick with a vaccine-preventable disease, the school or child care facility can prevent them from attending. If you have to stay home, taking care of your child, you lose time at work — and also face medical bills or potential long-term disability care.
Vaccines are a good investment and insurance typically covers the cost. The Vaccines for Children program is a federal program that provides vaccines at no cost to children from low-income families. To learn more, visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/ or ask your child’s health care professional.
#5 – Vaccines help protect future generations. Vaccines have reduced and even eliminated many diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago.
By vaccinating children against rubella (German measles), pregnant women are at far less risk of passing the virus to their fetus or newborn — which causes birth defects. By continuing to vaccinate, future parents will have assurance that rubella is no longer a threat to their children.
Vaccines: The Path to Healthier Lives
Infants, children, teenagers, and adults need vaccines, explains Dr. Saad Saad. Children receive the most vaccines — a total of 14 different vaccines are recommended by their 6th birthday. Some vaccines are given in a series of shots. Some vaccines are combined so they can be given together with fewer shots.
Who can’t get vaccines?
Certain people can’t or shouldn’t receive vaccinations. Infants under 2 months — and people with certain medical problems — cannot get vaccinated. Also, a small number of people don’t respond well to a particular vaccine.
Because of this, it’s critical that everyone else gets vaccinated. This helps prevent spread of the disease for the vast majority of people.
What would happen if we stopped vaccinating children and adults?
If vaccinations stopped, the diseases would return. Smallpox is the only disease that requires no more vaccination since it has been completely eliminated. Every other disease is still alive and active in some parts of the world. If we continue to vaccinate, these diseases will travel and begin to threaten our children’s lives. There will once again be disease epidemics, just as in previous times.
In the 1970s, this happened in Japan. Their vaccination program for pertussis (whooping cough) had been very successful, with very few cases and no deaths. Then rumors said the vaccine was unsafe and wasn’t needed. By 1976, only 10% of children were being vaccinated for pertussis. In 1979, there was a pertussis epidemic, with more than 13,000 cases and 41 deaths. Soon after, vaccination rates improved and the number of cases went back down.
What You Should Know About Vaccines
Many myths about vaccines have spread on the internet. The facts below answer the most common questions about vaccines, and have been published by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Dr. Saad Saad shares these facts to reassure parents that vaccines are safe and will not harm their children.
Vaccines do NOT cause autism.
Research has found no link between a vaccine and the risk of developing autism. The one paper that suggested a link has been completely discredited. The doctor who wrote that paper lost his medical license. Research is showing that infants may be born with autism, before any vaccinations are given.
Vaccines are NOT too much for an infant’s immune system to handle.
Infants’ immune systems can handle much more than what vaccines give to them. They are exposed to hundreds of bacteria and viruses every day. Adding a few more with a vaccine doesn’t add to what their immune systems are capable of handling.
Vaccines do NOT contain toxins that will harm your child.
Some vaccines have trace amounts of substances that could be harmful if given in a large dose — formaldehyde, aluminum, and mercury. But vaccines contain a very small amount that is completely safe.
Vaccines do NOT cause the diseases they are meant to prevent.
This is a common misconception, especially regarding the flu vaccine. Many people think they get sick after getting a flu shot. But flu shots contain dead viruses — so you cannot get sick from the shot. Even with vaccines that use a weakened live virus, you might experience mild symptoms similar to the illness — but you do not have the disease.
Dr. Saad Saad’s advice to parents: Please get your children vaccinated. It is best for the child’s health, and for the health of other children. We must protect our children in the best way possible, and that includes vaccines which have been thoroughly tested and found safe. There is no reason to withhold vaccinations.
About Dr. Saad Saad
Dr. Saad Saad, now retired, served as Surgeon-in-Chief and the Co-Medical Director of K Hovnanian Children Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Health Care System in New Jersey for most of his career. Dr. Saad is a pediatric surgeon who served the Saudi Royal family in the 1980s. Over his 40-year-career, Dr. Saad performed complex pediatric surgeries on patients both inside and outside of his community. He holds the patents for both of his medical inventions, the newly designed catheter and the suction endoscope.