Brooke Parker, DO, MBA

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Dr. Brooke Parker-Pins and Needles

Pins and needles

PacMed doctor explains controversy behind immunizations

Posted on August 24, 2018 on

With the school year approaching, back-to-school physicals and preparations are well underway. The annual parental conundrum presents itself: to vaccinate, or not to vaccinate? Parents have enough to worry about -- purchasing adequate school supplies and clothing, prepping healthy lunches, and possibly: dreaded teenage angst as high school transitions occur. Luckily, Pacific Medical Centers' Dr. Brooke Parker is here to explain immunization importance, provide alternatives to vaccinating, and perhaps lessen the burden parents carry in regards to their children's health.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the topic of vaccinations and immunizations. Can you explain or debunk the arguments against vaccinating children and youth?

Vaccinations can be controversial because, although they save lives, they have infrequent adverse side effects. Vaccinating children against life-threatening diseases can cause mild, short-term side effects such as redness and swelling at the injection site, fever and rash. The most serious risks that some parents worry about, such as severe allergic reactions, are far rarer than most people realize. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the risk of a serious allergic reaction from any vaccine is one in one million doses, and there is overwhelming evidence that vaccines aren't dangerous. As a physician, I encourage all of my patients to get vaccinated. When patients opt out of immunizations, the risk of outbreaks increases within the community.

Are there any alternative precautions parents or individuals can take in place of vaccinations?

There are no effective alternatives that offer the same protection against illnesses and viruses that vaccines do, which is why we recommend that all children get vaccinated.

What immunizations do you advocate children receiving on a regular basis?

In preparation for the upcoming school year, parents should schedule a general check-up exam to pinpoint any health concerns and stay up-to-date on immunizations. I highly encourage my patients to stay current on their immunizations, as it will protect against viruses and illnesses, especially during busy school days.

In Washington state, parents must provide a Certificate of Immunization Status (CIS) or a Certificate of Exemption (COE) in order for their children to attend school. Children entering kindergarten will need several immunizations including the DTaP, which helps children develop immunity to diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, also known as pertussis.

Incoming students will also get a measles/mumps/rubella (or MMR) shot and a shot to prevent chickenpox. IPV is another common vaccination for younger children, which is formulated to ward off polio.

For older children, another set of boosters happens around age 11 or 12, including a tetanus booster and Menactra, which protects against the bacterial versions of spinal meningitis.

What immunizations do you feel are most crucial for soldiers to receive - especially military personnel who are stationed abroad?

Keeping up to date on all vaccines is especially important for members of the military, as they typically live in close quarters with others and are required to travel internationally. Depending on where they are located, some foreign living environments may have contaminated food and water and could pose increased risk of infection spread by mosquito bites.

Members of the military should receive the same recommended vaccines as everyone else based on their age, vaccination history and health conditions. Depending on where military members are deployed, they may also need additional vaccines based on location.

Pacific Medical Centers also has a travel clinic that offers comprehensive travel services for patients who may be traveling internationally, including pre-travel exams and immunizations, malaria prevention tips and medications, country-specific travel advice, safe food and water suggestions and how to cope with being away from home.

What are the most common reactive symptoms of vaccinations in children? In adults?

Negative side effects from vaccinations are rare and infrequent and typically result in minor effects including low-grade fever, fussiness, headache, fatigue, or loss of appetite. Although these rare side effects are a concern, the risk of a vaccine causing harm is extremely limited.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about immunizations?

Several life-threatening illnesses and viruses are protected against when individuals receive immunizations, including hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, pertussis and tuberculosis, among others. Immunizations are one of the most effective preventative health measures we can provide to our patients.