Dr. William Schaffner is no stranger to parents' fears over vaccines. But at a talk next month at his grandchildren's school, to a room packed with parents, Schaffner said his job will be less about convincing parents that their kids need vaccines -- and more about convincing them that they need to adhere to the recommended schedule.
"I've already heard there's going to be an overflow crowd at my talk," said Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases and chairman of the department of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Indeed, fears among some parents that the current regimen of infant vaccinations involves too many vaccines too soon have reinvigorated the debate over childhood vaccine safety.
In October 2007, Dr. Robert Sears, a pediatrician in Capistrano Beach, Calif., published "The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child." Included in Sears' book, which sold more than 40,000 copies, was an alternative vaccine schedule that would allow parents to delay -- and in some cases completely avoid -- many vaccines for their children.
On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is issuing its updated childhood vaccination schedule, along with an article that deconstructs Sears' popular "delayed vaccine" schedule.
In accordance with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the new AAP vaccination guidelines include a recommended flu shot for all children 6 months of age and older, as well as a two-dose schedule for the rotavirus vaccine.
But more importantly, the article released alongside the guidelines outlines the safety and efficacy issues associated with following an alternative vaccine schedule, such as that proposed by Sears.
Dr. Paul Offit, lead author of the report and chief of infectious diseases at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, wrote in his article that "at the heart of the problem with Sears' schedules is the fact that, at the very least, they will increase the time during which children are susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases."
And according to infectious disease experts, the longer a vaccine is delayed for a child, the longer the child is at risk for contracting a potentially preventable and debilitating disease.
"Sears' proposed schedules ... are really not ideal for protecting that baby," Schaffner said. "This alternative schedule may respond to parental anxiety at the price of keeping the baby susceptible to serious infectious diseases for a longer period of time."
According to Schaffner, many parents' anxiety over vaccine safety and eagerness to find an alternative vaccine schedule for their children has increased exponentially.
"There's been an awful lot of anxiety expressed in the media about vaccines and allegations about vaccines," Schaffner said. "And most importantly, as the diseases that vaccines prevent have disappeared, our young parents have no personal experience of these diseases and neither do their parents."
Additionally, Offit remarks in his report that the vaccine schedule proposed by Sears was not tested for safety and efficacy in any clinical trials, and is not backed up by the same body of evidence as the CDC's recommended vaccine schedule.