Q & A with Bob Sears, M.D., FAAP
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bob Sears, M.D., FAAP, author of The Vaccine Book, will be participating in the La Leche League conference Aug. 15-17, 2008 at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort. Register online here. For more information on childhood immunizations or Sears, or to connect with other parents or medical professionals, read more on the official website.
Q: In The Vaccine Book, you talk about the difference between past generations of parents who obediently followed doctor’s orders and the current generations who inform themselves, question everything and take a more active role in their children’s medical care. How do you hope your book will benefit modern parents?
A: I think parents are asking more questions simply because there are a lot more vaccinations than there used to be… probably three times as many as what we gave kids 20 years ago. I think the main benefit of my approach is it’s not just outright anti-vaccination [message] like so many books out there but it’s not blindly pro-vaccination either. It gives both sides of the story in one package based on straightforward science — information that we know is correct and gives [parents] a complete look at both sides of the story.
Q: What are the most common concerns you hear from parents about immunizations?
A: Probably the biggest concern is the overload of so many simultaneous vaccinations being given at such a young age. We give six shots at 2, 4, and 6 months. The biggest concern is the chemical ingredients. There is too much of an overlap.
Q: People are also still concerned about mercury since it came out in news number of years ago.
A: The good news is that parents don’t really have to worry about mercury anymore; it has been taken out of virtually all of the vaccinations. The only place you do have to worry is with some brands of the flu shots which still contain mercury but there are mercury-free brands as well. As long as a parent knows what they’re doing and where to look they can get the entire vaccination schedule mercury-free. It really comes down to big overload of so many vaccinations at such an early age.
Q: Small amounts of aluminum are found in almost all vaccines, how much of a concern is this for a healthy baby?
A: I think my biggest concern is simply that we have not researched it enough. No one has actually studied vaccine amounts of aluminum in human infants yet. We need to do more research on that in order to demonstrate that it really is safe. I’m somewhat concerned about it not because I know it’s dangerous but that no one has studied it to prove that it is safe. In this uncertain time I encourage parents to spread out aluminum containing vaccines so that their child is not overloaded at any one visit.
Q: You don’t seem very confident in the link between autism and current vaccines, why?
A: I don’t think there’s been any proof of a link right now. No study has actually really proven that there’s a link. Most studies have done a pretty good job at showing there probably isn’t a link…But no study has actually proven for sure that there is no link. If they do some day discover that there is a risk, I think that my proposed vaccination schedule goes along way to minimize that risk by spreading the shots out a little bit and by delaying the measles component of the MMR vaccine.
Q: I was surprised by the widespread use of human and animal tissues in vaccines. How are they used in making vaccines?
A: They’re used to nourish all of the germs so that they can grow and multiply. Just as germs grow and thrive inside human and animal bodies, we can use those tissues to serve that same purpose in laboratories to make the vaccines. Some parents will look at that as a concern not because we know that it’s dangerous but because it seems a little unusual to parents injecting things into their babies that were grown using animal tissue. It makes parents a little squeamish. We don’t know that there’s anything dangerous about it and tissues are carefully sterilized and screened to make sure that there’s no infections in them.
Q: Why do some parents choose to delay immunizations until their children are older? Can it help to avoid potential risks?
A: Vaccines very rarely can cause some severe neurological reactions so some parents feel that it’s safer to wait until their child’s nervous system is more developed and they can handle those types off reactions. I don’t recommend that because it leaves the baby susceptible to some very serious diseases. If a parents going to wait until nervous system is fully developed have to wait two to three years and most parents and myself as a doctor I feel a little uncomfortable leaving babies susceptible to serious and potent fatal diseases during those two to three years.
Q: Immunizations have been a hot topic at least as long as I’ve been a parent and I’m no longer surprised when I meet parents that don’t vaccinate their children at all. Would you recommend any extra precautions to parents who take this stance?
A: Yes. it’s definitely important to breastfeed for at least one year and two years would be better. Avoid large group daycares and church and health club nurseries for at least the first two years of life but you don’t have to live like a hermit either. I think small controlled playgroups are fine and family gatherings are fine as long as you’re looking around and making sure that none of the other kids seem to be sick at the time. Also I would say that it’s important to seek medical care early if the child gets sick with a high fever, unusual rash, a cough… a lot of parents ride that out but if your not vaccinating it’s good idea to have child looked at a little sooner than you normally would. You should also responsibly quarantine your children when they are sick. You don’t want to be responsible for starting an outbreak of what could have been a vaccine preventable disease.
Q: Last month we saw an outbreak of about 20 cases of the measles in a local community and there was some media hype about making sure your children were immunized. In such an instance would you recommend that parents of unvaccinated children begin a series of shots?
A: I don’t think these very small outbreaks pose much risk to these individual families and it’s a risk that they’ve chosen to take. But if they are very scared of the measles disease then they can always change there mind and go ahead and get their kid vaccinated. But because most kids get through measles without any trouble, unvaccinated families don’t need to live in fear for the months surrounding an outbreak.
I think the main reason some parents are staying away from the MMR, which includes measles, is that they don’t want the combined MMR vaccine but the vaccine components [measles, mumps and rubella] are also made separately. I think more parents would get the vaccines if they could spread them out and get the measles vaccine at a later age but most doctors don’t provide those kinds of options so the parents are simply going unvaccinated. I would say if more doctors provided patients with the options of getting a separate measles vaccine at age three or four instead of as an infant, more parents would choose that option instead of leaving their child totally unprotected.
Q: After researching immunizations for 13 years and with your own professional experience, what advice would you give expectant or new parents as they weigh the risks and benefits of vaccinations?
A: I would say the first decision I encourage parents to make is to not give their baby that first vaccine in the hospital which is for hepatitis B. Parents are often faced with that decision the day their baby is born and they never even had a chance to think about what they want to do with vaccines. Because [hep B] is a sexual transmitted disease and not something that babies catch, I think it’s better to skip that one at least during the early months. I would also encourage all parents to educate themselves. Take the time to read and study and learn about the risks and benefits of vaccinations and then make an educated decision. Parents that come to the conclusion that they are concerned about the vaccination schedule and want to do things differently, I encourage them to consider the various vaccination options that I present in the book.
Q: Your research was inspired by a friend who tried to win you over to the “anti” side of the vaccination debate; how did he like your book?
A: [Laughs.] He likes it. He thought it was very well balanced. He knows me very well, knows I wouldn’t write an anti-vaccination book and he feels I found the perfect balance to provide parents with the education they need.