Vaccines: Concerns about immunizing your child

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Many parents have questions about vaccines. Finding reliable information about vaccines and the diseases they prevent will help you understand how to make decisions that protect your child from infections. It is also important to learn about the safety of vaccines, how they are given and what side effects your child may experience, to make vaccination as safe and stress-free as possible.

Key points

  • Vaccines protect us from infections that can cause severe illness, serious complications, and even death.
  • Children who are not vaccinated are at risk in their own communities, when travelling or when infections are brought into the country.
  • Vaccines are very safe and thoroughly tested before being approved for use, and most provide over 90% protection against the disease.
  • Vaccines do not cause autism.
  • Receiving multiple vaccines at a single time is safe for your child and most side effects are minor and temporary.

As a parent, do you have concerns about vaccinating your children? You are not alone. No parent wants to put their child at risk, and some information that is shared about vaccines, while not reliable, may be frightening. Some parents have delayed vaccinations or altered the schedule of vaccinations for their children because of unanswered questions or fear. The reasons why parents choose not to vaccinate their children are complex.

In addition to all of the questions you might have, you may not be sure what and who to believe or where to get your information. You hear about vaccines from your child’s health-care provider, in the media, from friends and family, or by reading information on the Internet. Often, the information seems to conflict.

The truth about vaccines

To get the information you need, it is beneficial to have a good relationship and open communication with your child’s health-care provider. Tips for preparing for your child’s visit with their health-care provider include writing down any questions or concerns about vaccines that you have beforehand to make sure you do not forget anything and talking to your health-care provider about what is on your mind.

Routine vaccination programs in Canada currently protect children against over 15 diseases. In most cases, these vaccines provide over 90% protection against the disease. Globally, vaccination currently prevents two to three million deaths each year.

All diseases that children are vaccinated against have the potential to be serious. All vaccine-preventable diseases can cause illness, complications and even death. For example, one to two in every 1,000 cases of measles result in death. Between one and four babies in Canada die every year from pertussis (whooping cough); and about one in 400 babies who survive pertussis will have permanent brain damage.

Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable infections continue to happen. When immunization rates drop, more people are likely to get the infection; and what used to be a rare illness can become more common in the population. Vaccine-preventable infections that are uncommon in Canada still occur in other parts of the world. Any child who is not vaccinated is at risk when they are travelling or when infections are brought back to Canada.

The best protection for a population is when most or all people are fully immunized. The fewer vulnerable people there are in a population, the less chance an infectious disease will have to spread (herd immunity).

Safety of vaccines

Vaccines are very safe. Before vaccines are approved for use, they are thoroughly tested. They go through many steps to demonstrate they are safe and effective. Even after a vaccine is approved for use, it is always monitored for any possible side effects and all serious or unexpected side effects are reported to Health Canada.

Most side effects from vaccines are minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever, and babies are no more likely to get side effects than older children. Because many infectious diseases are more common in babies and young children, delaying vaccines leaves them at higher risk of the diseases and the complications of disease. Giving multiple vaccinations at the same time as recommended by Canada’s immunization schedules is safe and effective and does not produce more side effects.

Most vaccines do not have live viruses and cannot cause infections and no vaccines in Canada use live bacteria. The live vaccines routinely used in Canada (measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and rotavirus) have weakened viruses that are unable to cause disease in healthy people. It is recommended that your baby start to receive their vaccines starting at two months of age. This will help protect your baby as early as possible against diseases that are more likely to cause serious or life-threatening infections in younger children.

It is not better to allow your child to get sick from a disease and acquire natural immunity instead of being vaccinated. In fact, it is riskier. Natural infection comes with the possibility of serious complications related to that infection. With vaccines, the immune system is stimulated to develop protection against future infection without making your child sick.

Vaccines and autism

All routine childhood vaccines in Canada use single-dose vials and do not contain preservatives such as thimerosal, with the exception of multi-dose vials of influenza vaccine. Preservatives such as thimerosal are used in multi-dose vials to prevent microbial contamination.

Vaccines (including the MMR vaccine) do not cause autism. There is no scientific evidence to support the belief that vaccines cause autism, but there is a lot of scientific evidence that shows that vaccines do not cause or trigger autism in susceptible children.

Getting a vaccine

Getting vaccines can be painful and cause stress for both you and your child. There are things that you can do to reduce the pain of vaccination in your baby or child, such as using numbing creams, comfort positions and distraction techniques.

Most vaccines are given using a syringe. These syringes are single-use syringes and are not reused. This eliminates any risk of transmitting infections through needles. Some vaccines are given using other methods that also eliminate risk of infection. The rotavirus vaccine is given in a liquid form by mouth, and some flu vaccines can be given using a nasal spray.

Many vaccines are given in combination, providing protection to your child for several different diseases with just one injection. For example, the MMR vaccine provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella. Getting more than one vaccine at once also means there is no delay in protection, fewer medical visits and fewer needles for your child.

Multiple vaccines are safe when administered at the same medical visit. Your child’s immune system is able to respond to multiple vaccines given at a single time. Your child’s immune system works hard every day since it is regularly exposed to thousands of small substances called antigens that occur naturally in the environment. Each vaccine administered adds a handful of extra antigens and does not overburden the immune system. For more information on immunization schedules for your child, visit:

Choosing to immunize

As a parent your natural instinct is to protect your child from harm as best as you can. Preventing infections with vaccination is one way to reduce harm. Ask your child’s health-care provider for reliable resources if you still have questions.

Last updated: July 10th 2023