The Dangers of Alternative Vaccine Schedules

Sep 22, 2021 | Medical Updates, General, Newborn

Pediatric Associates of Cheshire follows the CDC’s vaccine schedule


The Center for Disease Control (CDC) publishes a vaccine schedule for infants, children, and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends following this vaccine schedule, except in very rare circumstances where certain vaccines are avoided for medical reasons. Ask your child’s pediatrician if this applies to your child. In accordance with the CDC and AAP, your doctors at Pediatric Associates of Cheshire (PAC) also recommend following this schedule.


The CDC vaccine schedule is based on research


It is important to know that this schedule is not random and does not contain “extra” or “unnecessary” vaccines. Rather, it is the product of intensive research by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The ACIP meets 3 times per year to review data regarding: 

  1. Vaccine safety and effectiveness based on the recipient’s age
  2. Vaccine-preventable disease severity 
  3. The immune system’s response to the vaccine
  4. What happens to unvaccinated people 

The current CDC vaccine schedule is informed by this data, and represents the best way we know how to protect our patients, families, and communities. The schedule has “windows” for vaccines, rather than hard and fast dates. This allows wiggle room for life’s inevitable challenges such as travel, missed appointments, or a child’s illness. For more information on the CDC vaccine schedule, visit the CDC’s website.


Alternative vaccine schedules seek to protect children


Many families choose to vaccinate on an alternative schedule, or to delay vaccination for as long as possible. This decision is usually made to try to protect a child from harm. We get it. Just like you, your doctors at PAC are parents, children, siblings, aunts, and uncles. We understand and empathize with your natural protective instincts. They are part of what makes you a good parent. But instincts can be misleading. This is especially true in countries where vaccine-preventable illnesses are rare (due to vaccine programs). Many people do not appreciate the importance of vaccines because they have never lived in a world without them. As a result, they may tend to view inaction (not vaccinating) as safer than action (vaccinating).


Alternative vaccine schedules aren’t good enough for our families or yours


Viewing inaction (not vaccinating) as safer than action (vaccinating) puts both doctor and patient in a difficult situation. Here’s why. Many families choose alternative vaccine schedules in the name of providing “special” protection for their child; yet our own children, nieces, and nephews are vaccinated according to the CDC schedule. This is ironic and demonstrates a breakdown in the doctor-patient relationship as well as a deviation from the standard of care. Our goal is to care for your child like we care for our own families. Alternative vaccine schedules jeopardize that goal. 


Alternative vaccine schedules put children at risk 


We recognize that your children are special and unique. But with rare exceptions, their immune systems are not unique. Rather, your child’s immune system works just like the immune systems of other children. And just like other children, your child deserves to be protected. Alternative vaccine schedules use vaccines in a way in which they have not been studied, so they may not be as effective. Think of alternative vaccine schedules like a car seat installed incorrectly. There is much more to a car seat than just putting it in the car. It must be facing the right direction, in the correct seat, with the buckles correctly fastened. If not, it doesn’t offer adequate protection. Certainly you would not accept an “alternative” car seat installation plan, because the manufacturer of the car seat is the authority on how it should be installed. After all, that is who designed and tested it! Similarly, vaccinating on an alternative schedule has the opposite of its intended effect: it puts at risk those children it seeks to protect. To a pediatrician, a request to vaccinate on an alternative schedule is a request to put a child at unnecessary risk. 


Falling behind is problematic 


At PAC, we have noticed that children vaccinated on alternative schedules tend to fall behind. In other words, they miss the vaccination windows set by the CDC, and sometimes are overdue for multiple doses of a vaccine. This means two things. First, that child is vulnerable to dangerous diseases that cause problems such as pneumonia, meningitis, and liver failure. Second, a “catch-up” vaccination series will need to be started. This requires multiple office visits in a short time frame with a higher-than-average number of shots per visit. It is time-consuming, painful, and not ideal for your child’s immune system.   


Spreading out vaccines causes more harm than good


One common concern parents have about the CDC vaccine schedule is that vaccines are given in “bunches”. Some parents believe that children’s immune systems cannot handle multiple vaccines at once, and that they should be spread out among multiple visits. If you’ve ever seen a 15-month-old baby crawl across a bathroom floor to pick up a toy, then put that toy in her mouth, you will agree that children’s immune systems are constantly bombarded with bacteria, viruses, and other environmental hazards. Their immune systems are designed to react and adapt to these threats, becoming stronger in the process. Vaccines take advantage of this adaptive ability. Spreading out vaccines only increases the number of visits devoted to vaccination, and therefore increases the number of stressful events in your child’s life. For example, 4 vaccines, given all at once, cause your baby to cry for 5 minutes or so. After a bottle and some cuddling, all is well again. But 1 vaccine given at 4 different visits causes your baby to cry for 5 minutes, 4 times. The overall stress response is higher. And for older children, the association between doctor’s office and vaccines grows stronger with each vaccine visit, triggering fear and anxiety the moment he or she comes through the door.  


At PAC, we want to work with you


We only know one way to practice pediatrics— the best way. If there was evidence to support an alternative vaccine schedule, we would be eager to share it with you. And we would recommend it for our own family members. Many practices will not accept patients who choose to vaccinate on an alternative schedule. Depending on the situation, your doctor at PAC may be willing to work with you. This is because an alternative vaccine schedule is better than no vaccines at all. But we ask that parents strongly consider the harm that an alternative vaccine schedule may cause. 

For a more in-depth look at the problems with alternative vaccine schedules, click here. If you have any questions or wish to discuss the vaccine schedule, call your child’s pediatrician or ask at your child’s next appointment.

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