Question: Why give several vaccinations at one time? Wouldn’t it be better to space them out?
Dr. LaSalle: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices are charged with setting the childhood vaccine schedule. Their recommendations are based on timing or spacing that creates the most effective immune response and takes into consideration when children are at highest risk of complications or death from vaccine-preventable disease.
If we are not doing vaccines at the recommended intervals, it leaves children incompletely protected. Vaccinations given in series, build upon each other. The first flu shot we give a child, for example, only ‘primes the pump,’ so to speak. It gives the child’s immune system a first look at a pathogen and lets it start developing antibodies. But it is not until the second flu shot, given 4 or more weeks later, that the antibody production system really kicks into gear to develop a full immune response. If we only give the child the first of the two vaccines and delay the other, we are not giving their bodies a chance to develop full protection. This leaves the child at risk.
Also, children are at greatest risk of complications of disease at younger ages. If we wait to give them their vaccines until they are older, we are leaving them at risk exactly when they are the most vulnerable.
We also know that young children often have a much more robust immune response to vaccines than do older children or adults. Their bodies are much more efficient at developing antibodies. Consequently, most vaccines work better when given at a younger age than if we wait until kids are older.
No parent wants to see their child hurting and vaccines do cause temporary discomfort. But many vaccines are given in combination now so that there are fewer pokes necessary. If we separate these out, we are actually giving them more pokes, increasing the frequency of discomfort, than if we did them in combination and at the recommended intervals. And, if you’ve ever seen a child get their shots, you know that the upset that this causes is extremely temporary. Within minutes, they are back to their happy, smiling selves.
Finally, we have to look at the reality of our lives these days. Parents are busy juggling work, kids activities, etc. If we are spacing out vaccines, its not uncommon for parents to forget to come back. Life gets in the way. It happens to all of us. But this can result in incomplete immunity. It puts the child at risk of illness and increases the chances that they could then spread that illness to others in the community.