The importance of vaccines for infants in today’s world
By Dr. Nathan Landefeld
Physicians’ Primary Care of Southwest Florida
The latest scare tactic from the anti-vax movement is that infants today are getting “too many shots, too soon.”
I agree that it certainly does feel like a lot when I start listing the diseases we can protect your baby from with vaccines. They get 21 vaccines against 14 different diseases over the first two years of life! But, the unit of measurement used to measure “stress” on our immune system is not how many shots received. And, it’s not even how many diseases you are protecting against. The thing we need to count is an antigen.
What is an antigen? An antigen is a molecule that your immune system can recognize, and to which it can make an immune response. If you are asking how much an immune system is “seeing,” you would count the number of antigens to which you are exposed.
When I was an infant, we had only four TV stations, and my pediatrician could use vaccines to protect me against just seven different diseases. The vaccines I received from birth to age two in 1971 and 1972 contained over 3,000 different antigens. (Vaccines were a bit crude and “sloppy” in the old days.)
Today, we routinely use vaccines to protect our patients from 14 different childhood diseases in the first two years of life. So how many more antigens are they being exposed to today? Surprise. It’s not more, it’s fewer. That’s right, a baby today is exposed to just 320 antigens over the first two years of vaccines. This is because scientists have been able to make much more elegant, streamlined vaccines than 50 years ago.
So the “too much, too soon” for our babies argument does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. We are protecting children against twice as many diseases, while exposing their immune systems to one-tenth the antigen. And, whether it was 1971 or 2023, the antigen exposure from vaccines is a drop in the ocean compared to the tens of thousands of antigens our immune system processes from everyday living. Nathan Landefeld, M.D., FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician with Physicians’ Primary Care of Southwest Florida) with offices throughout Lee County. www.ppcswfl.com