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Vaccines

What's New In Vaccines

What's New In Vaccines

This is an exciting time in the history of vaccines; even as our children reap the dramatic benefits of our national immunization programs, new vaccines are being developed and older ones improved. The results of this continued progress have led to an increasingly complex routine immunization schedule and a rise in the total number of vaccine doses required to completely immunize your child. Ongoing monitoring of vaccine safety by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) also leads to occasional changes in routine vaccination. As a parent, it's hard to keep up with all of the changes. This update is designed to make you aware of some important new developments and how they could affect your child.

New Combination Vaccines
The idea is not new; by combining vaccines against more than one disease in a single injection, we reduce the total number of injections for each child. Many new combination vaccines are now available (one example combines Hepatitis B with Haemophilus influenza type b), and more are on the way.

Poliovirus Vaccine
Beginning in January 2000, the CDC started recommending only IPV (inactivated poliovirus vaccine) be used. This is a killed form of the virus and eliminates the chance of a child contracting the disease from the vaccine. Previously, the schedule called for two injections of IPV, followed by doses of OPV (Oral Poliovirus Vaccine) given by mouth.

Rotavirus Vaccine
The use of Rotavirus vaccine was recently suspended. It was developed to prevent a form of viral diarrhea that can be severe in children under 2. It became part of the routine immunization schedule in January of 1999. But in the first half of 1999 the national Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) of the FDA and CDC detected a possible association between the vaccine and cases of intussusception, a bowel obstruction that occurs when part of the bowel folds into itself. Symptoms are severe abdominal pain that may come and go with or without bloody stools. It appears that there may have been an increased risk for this condition in the weeks immediately following vaccine administration. Because of the possible association with this condition, use of this vaccine was suspended in July of 1999 pending further study.

Thimerosal
This is an organic mercury-based preservative used widely in vaccines for many decades. Though there has never been any evidence of adverse reaction to thimerosal, a study by the FDA suggested that with the current immunization schedule the cumulative exposure to mercury in the first six months of life could exceed some government-recommended limits. These limits are set well below dangerous levels, and there is no indication that any child has been harmed. Because very high mercury levels can damage the nervous system, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that vaccine manufacturers eliminate this preservative from their vaccines. In the meantime, your doctor may delay hepatitis immunization for your child until six months of age if your child is not at increased risk for hepatitis. Other immunizations should be given as scheduled, since the benefit of protecting your child from these vaccine-preventable diseases outweighs the theoretical risk of thimerosal. Soon thimerosal will be eliminated from the vaccine supply, making vaccines even safer.

Sources of Vaccine Information
The Internet has created an explosion of information about vaccines, not all of it reliable. The best sources for accurate information are:

  • National Immunization Program of the CDC (By phone at 800-232-2522; Spanish 800-232-0233)
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Immunization Action Coalition

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About The Author

Nina Livingston, M.D., F.A.A.P. is in the Department of Pediatrics at Maimonides Medical Center in New York.

The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.


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