DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My sister-in-law has chosen not to vaccinate her children. She believes they don’t need the vaccinations in the first place, and that vaccines actually do more harm than good. I know this can’t be true. What are the facts behind the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations? Isn’t it putting other kids at risk when some choose not to vaccinate?
ANSWER: Yes, you are exactly right. Not immunizing a child puts that child — as well as siblings, parents, friends and other people he or she may come in contact with — at risk. The childhood vaccines recommended in the United States have been proven safe and effective. They protect children from a variety of serious and sometimes fatal diseases, including diphtheria, measles, meningitis, polio, tetanus and whooping cough. Unless there is a valid medical contraindication, opting out of vaccines is a mistake.
The idea that vaccines are not needed because a child’s natural immunity provides enough protection is common among people who choose not to vaccinate their children. Although a natural infection may provide more complete immunity than a series of vaccinations, there’s a big price to pay. To become immune naturally, you have to get the infection first. With the infection comes the very real risk of severe and sometimes permanent complications, including hospitalization and death.