Common concerns about vaccinations


There's a lot of misinformation about vaccines online and among parenting groups.  We help you sort out what's credible and what's not.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about vaccines.  If you have additional concerns, please attend our community workshop, talk to your pediatrician, or email

Aren't there harmful ingredients in vaccines?+

Ingredients, also called additives, are added to vaccines to protect against disease and ensure that the vaccines are safe, sterile, and effective. Certain ingredients, called adjuvants, used in vaccines help a child’s body produce the disease-fighting antibodies it needs .

Information about specific ingredients:

Aluminum: Many parents have heard warnings about too much aluminum in childhood vaccines. There is no need for parents to fear aluminum. It is the most common metal found in nature, is part of our everyday environment, and is critical for making vaccines effective. In fact, a child gets more aluminum from breast milk or formula than from a vaccine.

Mercury/Thimerosal: Oregon has banned thimerosal in pediatric vaccines necessary for school entry immunization requirements. Since 2001, vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for children under six years of age are thimerosal-free, except for some formulations of the influenza (flu) vaccine, which contain a trace amount. Even if mercury were in vaccines, numerous studies show no evidence of vaccines containing thimerosal to have harmed humans.

There's a whooping cough outbreak in my community. What do I need to know to protect myself and my family?+

If you have questions about a specific disease like whooping cough (pertussis), measles, or any other vaccine-preventable disease, check out the Pink Book and click on the relevant chapter. You can also download this handy app for the Vaccine Handbook and search by disease or any vaccine-related topic.

Can I space out my child's shots?+

Choosing to delay vaccinations leaves children at risk when they need the protection the most. Children are vaccinated at a young age when they are most susceptible to the diseases they are vaccinated against. Studies show no increased risk of side effects from getting multiple vaccines at one time. Unvaccinated children are more likely to get diseases. One study showed that children who were unvaccinated for whooping cough (pertussis) were at least eight times more likely to get the disease.

Can vaccines cause autism?+

There have been 107 different studies looking for a possible connection between vaccines and autism. None have found evidence of a link. For more information about the causes of autism, check out the Autism Science Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting autism research. The myth that vaccines cause autism originated in 1998 by a British physician, Andrew Wakefield. That year, he published a study claiming that the MMR vaccine might cause a developmental regression that looked like autism. In 2010, this study was fully retracted by its publisher, and the study was found to be scientifically unsound because Wakefield manipulated and falsified his data. In May 2010, Great Britain’s General Medical Council revoked Dr. Wakefield’s medical license.

I've never heard of anyone in Oregon with these diseases — why should I vaccinate against them?+

Although we may not see many of these diseases in Oregon, it does not mean that these diseases are gone. Vaccines have worked so successfully that we have seen a decrease in these diseases in Oregon and in the entire U.S. When vaccination rates decrease, diseases become more common in our communities. For example, there have been measles outbreaks across the U.S. in 2014 and 2015, including multiple outbreaks in Oregon. Nationally, we had the highest number of measles cases in decades in 2014. Oregon’s community immunity is eroding. In our state, we have the highest vaccine exemption rate for school-age children in the country. At some schools, it is 30% or higher. These diseases are just a plane ride away. With so much international travel to countries where measles is still active, we can’t take the chance of being unprotected at home.

Doesn't getting sick build up the immune system?+

You never know the outcome of getting a disease. One in 10 unvaccinated children who gets chickenpox will have a complication serious enough to visit a doctor or be hospitalized. Choosing not to vaccinate is not risk free. It is simply choosing to take a different and much more serious risk – the risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease. It’s about more than protecting your child with a vaccine. You are protecting children and adults who could get very sick or die if they catch the disease. Children can be sick for weeks. Time lost from school and work is just not worth it.

Do I need to vaccinate my kid when everyone else is?+

Community immunity is important for protecting children. In Oregon, our school vaccination exemption rate is 5% or higher, which is below the community immunity threshold for most diseases. When our community immunity is weakened, disease outbreaks can occur, leaving us all at risk. Vaccinating children exposes them to weakened diseases so that their bodies can build immunity and better fend off disease if there is outbreak. We never know who will bring illness into a community and how strong the virus will be. It’s up to all of us to contribute to our community’s immunity so that we all benefit from less disease and protect those who can’t get vaccinated.

How can I be informed to make the right decisions about my baby's health?+

It’s important to be an advocate for your child’s health. The parents involved in Boost Oregon spent time before their babies were born to find doctors that they trusted and who answered their questions about vaccines. We felt good taking the doctors’ advice when it came to vaccines. We’ve read and heard a lot about this issue, too. We really like the balance of disease information and understanding of risk on the Immunization Action Coalition’s Vaccine Information You Need website. We also take pride that we’re part of the majority of parents who vaccinate their kids.

Aren't vaccines just moneymakers from pharmaceuticals?+

Pharmaceutical companies make way more money by selling drugs that treat disease than selling the prevention of disease - i.e. vaccines. For example, sales of the Sovaldi drug for Hepatitis C – just one disease – by one pharmaceutical company, exceeded more than $10 billion in one year. The truth is that pharmaceutical companies would be a lot richer if they didn’t sell vaccines and only sold drugs to treat the diseases.

On the other hand, the cost of giving vaccines often exceeds the amount that insurers and health plans pay for the service. Pediatricians share your goal in optimizing your child's health, and they make recommendations based on science, not profits.

Have vaccines been tested fully?+

Vaccines are some of the most tested and closely scrutinized medicines we take. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars go into each vaccine to make sure they are safe and effective before they are given in doctors’ offices. Even after they are released for use, vaccines are continually tested and watched for safety. For a list of safety tests and outcomes of various vaccines, check out this resource from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Can people still get sick even though they've been vaccinated?+

Even though vaccines are extremely effective, they are not perfect. For example, a vaccine that is 90% effective means that 1 in every 10 people who are vaccinated will not be fully protected from the disease. When the disease affects a community, unprotected people are more likely to be infected. This includes those who were not vaccinated and the 10% of people who were vaccinated but did not get full protection. Vaccinated people who get the disease can experience a milder form of the disease. For example, for whooping cough (pertussis), we know that vaccinated children have fewer symptoms, are sick for a shorter time, and are less likely to spread the disease to others. We need more than one dose of most vaccines to get the protective immunity. Some vaccines require booster doses throughout a lifetime to maintain protection.

Many thanks to Vax Northwest for allowing us to publish our version of their “Frequently Asked Questions.”  For more information about Vax Northwest, please visit