We live in an age where, thanks to the internet, we have so much information literally at our fingertips! And when you’re a busy parent trying to figure out how to calm a fussy baby or how much your newborn should sleep, getting answers within seconds can be a real lifesaver. The problem is that not everything that turns up in a Google search or every headline splashed across your social media feed is backed up with science—even if it looks and sounds like it is. That’s especially true when it comes to information about vaccines.

It can be super scary taking your sweet baby to get their shots. It’s normal to have questions about the safety and efficacy about vaccinations. But because vaccines play a crucial role in keeping your little one and your family healthy, I want to make sure that parents have all the facts. So, here, let’s go through some common misunderstandings about vaccines and set the record straight so we can get back to the business of keeping children safe and healthy!

Vaccine Myth #1: The vaccine schedule is too aggressive.

The idea that too many vaccines overwhelm a tiny baby’s immune system sounds logical, but the truth is, most children are exposed to up to 6,000 icky immune triggers (aka antigens) every day—far more than what’s in any combination of vaccines on the current immunization schedule. In other words, your child’s immune system is strong and equipped to handle vaccines!

Plus, the recommended vaccine schedule has been carefully designed to work best with your child’s immune system at certain ages. And it gets reviewed by a group of vaccine experts three times a year to make sure it continues to be safe and effective! Though “spacing out” shots may seem like a good idea, there’s no scientific proof that an alternative vaccine schedule is beneficial. In fact, since young babies are at a far greater risk of hospitalization and death from preventable diseases, delaying vaccines can put children in danger. (Everything you need to know about Baby’s immunization schedule.)

Vaccine Myth #2: Vaccines aren’t necessary since infection rates in America are so low.

Recent generations are lucky! They weren’t around when polio was rampant, paralyzing 20,000 Americans a year. They never experienced the time when 20% of people who got tetanus died. The very reason polio, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, and a host of other diseases are now scarce in America is because of vaccinations. When vaccination rates are high, disease rates are low—and, of course, the reverse is true, too. Take measles, for example. Measles was nearly unheard of in America for decades, but in 2019 there were 1,274 new measles cases— the most measles cases we’ve seen in about 30 years! And the majority of folks who got measles were unvaccinated. Even polio, which hasn’t been a worry in the U.S. for three decades, started rearing its head again in 2022. Vaccinations are the only way to stifle this worrying trend.

Vaccine Myth #3. Vaccines contribute to SIDS.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a parent’s worst nightmare. So, it’s understandable that parents and medical professionals alike are eager to explain—and put an end to—these heartbreaking deaths. Because SIDS peaks between 2 and 4 months old—the same time babies get several vaccines—some people have drawn a line between the two. But the many studies that have investigated the link between vaccines and SIDS have all concluded that vaccinations do not cause SIDS. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has determined that vaccines may help prevent SIDS. The best way to help avoid this awful tragedy is to place your baby safely to sleep on their back in a safe sleep environment. (Learn more about how parents can reduce the risk of SIDS.)

Vaccine Myth #4: Vaccines don’t actually prevent illness.

There’s not much in this world that offers 100% certainty, and vaccines are no exception. But the protection vaccines can offer is pretty darn impressive! Research shows that most routine childhood vaccines are effective for 85% to 95% of recipients, which translates to being 100% worth it! And if a vaccinated child has a breakthrough infection, they often experience milder symptoms than those who were not vaccinated. Thanks to immunizations, most children will never experience meningitis, polio, tetanus, or whooping cough, which is truly a medical miracle.

Vaccine Myth #5: Herd immunity can keep my unvaccinated child safe.

Herd immunity is when a large percentage of the community are immune to a disease thanks to getting vaccinated, leaving only a small number of susceptible people left to possibly become infected. For example, if all the grownups in your community get their whooping cough vaccine, it’s much less likely that your newborn—who can’t be vaccinated until they’re 2 months old—would get infected. So, it’s true that herd immunity does protect those who can’t be vaccinated, like precious newborns and immunocompromised people.

The problem is that as more and more folks refuse or delay vaccines, the harder it is to reach herd immunity. To put it in perspective, experts estimate that 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity for polio. For measles, it’s 95%! The best way to build herd immunity is by making sure that everyone who can get vaccinated does.

Vaccine Myth #6: Vaccines cause autism.

Vaccines do not cause autism. Some people have jumped to this conclusion because as the number of baby vaccinations increased, so did the number of autism cases. But this type of correlation in no way proves causation. To date, dozens of studies—examining millions of children—have failed to find any credible association between vaccines and autism. Right now, we know very little about the specific causes of autism. Instead, we know there are numerous factors that may make a child more likely to be diagnosed with autism. (Learn more about those risk factors and early warning signs of autism.)

Vaccine Myth #7: Vaccines may infect you with the illness you’re trying to prevent.

You may have heard that vaccines contain a version of the virus they’re designed to prevent…and that sure sounds scary! But take heart: Vaccines will not give you polio, measles, COVID, the flu, or any other vaccine-preventable illness. Most vaccines contain inactivated (aka killed) bacteria or viruses. Other shots, called live-attenuated vaccines, like the chickenpox, MMR, and rotavirus vaccine, contain weakened versions of the pathogen that are too feeble to cause or spread sickness. However, they are strong enough to trick the immune system into churning out protective antibodies to spur immunity! So, if your child gets a mild rash after their chickenpox vaccine, know that it’s a sign the shot is working. It’s not a sign that your child has chickenpox.

With that, if your child has a weakened immune system, talk to your pediatrician about a possible alternative to live-attenuated vaccines. In very rare cases, a “live” vaccine can cause illness in these vulnerable children. 

Vaccine Myth #8: It’s not safe to get vaccinated while pregnant.

While some vaccines are not recommended for pregnant people, parents-to-be should get the flu shot and the Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy to help prevent serious health issues for you and your baby. Extensive research has concluded that both shots are safe and effective for expecting parents and their babies—​and that protection lasts through your little one’s first few months of life. More recently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has also recommended the COVID vaccine during pregnancy.

Live-attenuated vaccines, like the MMR and chickenpox shot, on the other hand, should not be given to pregnant people because there’s a theoretical risk that the weakened virus in the vaccine could cross the placenta. (Learn more about what to expect at your prenatal appointments.)

Vaccine Myth #9: Vaccine side effects are too risky.

Low fever, body aches, and ouchies at the site of the shot are common vaccine side effects. These are signs that the vaccine is doing its job and that your bub’s immune system has kicked into high gear and is getting stronger! And once the vaccine successfully amps up your child’s antibodies, it leaves their body within a few days, and so do the side effects.

More serious side effects are very rare. For example, some parents have worried about possible heart-related side effects to the COVID-19 vaccine, but the reality is that the chance of getting myocarditis after receiving the COVID vaccine is just 2 in 100,000. Meanwhile, the chance of getting myocarditis after being hospitalized for COVID is 226 per 100,000!

That said, if your little one has a serious chronic medical condition, such as cancer, a weakened immune system, or has had a severe reaction to a prior vaccine, there’s a chance that certain vaccines may need to be swapped or delayed. That’s why it’s imperative to go over the risk-benefits with your provider. But for the majority of children, the risk of the disease itself is far greater than the risk of the vaccine!


More on Childhood Immunizations:

About Dr. Colleen A. Kraft

Dr. Colleen A. Kraft is a professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She’s the 2018 Past President of the American Academy of Pediatrics and currently serves on the Medical Affairs team for Happiest Baby, Inc. Dr. Kraft is known for her work in integrating care for children with developmental disabilities and behavioral health conditions into primary care pediatrics. She frequently lectures on pediatric topics at international conferences.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.