Each year, particularly before children go back to school, parents will inquire about immunization schedules and often ask about their safety. Many of the “safety” related questions are based on popular myths. The following is a Q&A with Norma Villanueva, M.D., M.P.H., network chief of Child and Adolescent Health at Lutheran Family Health Centers.
What are your general thoughts on vaccinations?
There are so many diseases and conditions that we are all at risk for in our lives. The vaccines we have available to us have been proven to work and can prevent a number of serious childhood diseases. More importantly, they save lives.
What would you tell parents about the HPV vaccine?
New vaccines are developed every few years and it’s important to speak to your pediatrician about the latest developments. For instance, the HPV vaccine will protect your child from one of the most common sexually-transmitted infections in the U.S., the human papillomavirus. HPV is a horrible virus that can cause cervical cancer and many other types of cancer. Both boys and girls over the age of eight should receive the vaccine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives, and most people never know that they have been infected and may give HPV to a partner without knowing it.
Does everyone understand the consequences and risks of not vaccinating their children?
No. Influenza is a good example of this where children and older adults, especially those with chronic diseases like asthma, are most at risk. Many people think it’s a normal seasonal illness and something everyone has to deal with and accept. This is not true. Flu is serious and kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide each year. Why would you take that risk?
Are vaccines safe?
Yes. Vaccines are safe, undergo rigorous safety testing, and are continually monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I sincerely recommend that parents follow their pediatricians’ advice and the vaccination schedules recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the CDC. Vaccine-preventable diseases are extremely serious and cause severe debilitation, cancer, and death. It’s not a chance you want to take with a child’s life.
What would you tell parents who are worried or have more questions?
I’d recommend that they review the following resources: The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Family Physicians, the NYC Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. These organizations have created a number of fact sheets and frequently asked questions for anyone with concerns about childhood immunizations and their impacts.
Pediatrician Norma Villanueva, MD, MPH, is network chief of child and adolescent health and regional director of medical education at Lutheran Family Health Centers in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. She received her medical degree from Yeshiva University, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and a master’s degree in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health.
*Beginning in January 2015, a clinical collaboration between Lutheran HealthCare and NYU Langone Medical Center offers a broad array of pediatric specialty services at Lutheran’s main campus in Sunset Park, and give patients access to complex subspecialty care at NYU Langone, if required. NYU Langone specialty services include pediatric cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, nephrology, pulmonology, and Rusk pediatric rehabilitation. These increased services build upon Lutheran’s recognized pediatric programs, including the largest school-based health center program in the state, and its Pediatric Epilepsy Center of Excellence, also in partnership with NYU Langone.