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Immunizations and SIDS
Q: I have been told by friends that SIDS has recently been linked to immunizations, and I should wait until my son is two years old before having him immunized. Is that true?
A: There is no link between immunizations and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Unfortunately, some people and organizations have posed theories linking immunizations to SIDS, but there is absolutely no evidence to support this. The cause of SIDS is not completely known, but we do know that the rate of SIDS has fallen dramatically since we started having infants sleep on their backs instead of on their bellies. It is likely that there is some defect in the breathing pattern of babies who die from SIDS.
Don't delay your child's immunizations until he is age two. Some of the diseases that we immunize children for are most dangerous to babies under two years old. Pertussis (whooping cough) is one example. A three-year-old who gets pertussis will be sick, but will most likely recover without difficulty. A five-month-old who gets pertussis may likely have severe, and sometimes fatal, symptoms.
Other important immunizations that prevent life-threatening diseases and decrease the exposure of the germs to others are the Hib (hemophilus influenza type B) and pneumococcal vaccines, both of which prevent meningitis and serious bacterial infections in young infants. Also, we still do see cases of tetanus (the T in DTP) in infants who have not been immunized.
It is easy these days to think you can wait until children are older, since we have conquered so many infections that were such a scourge 50 years ago, but those infections have not disappeared. Outbreaks still occur, and the children who are devastated by them are the ones who have not been immunized.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.