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What Is the Alternative Vaccine Schedule?

Experts debate the pros and cons of the alternative vaccine schedule and what it means for parents.

Number, Timing of Vaccinations

Many parents are wary of the regular vaccine schedule because of the number of shots kids get. Not only do children receive more vaccines than in the past, but sometimes, they get multiple immunizations in one visit.

In his book, Sears writes that his alternative vaccine schedule "does eventually provide complete protection from diseases, and it does so at an age-appropriate pace. It gives kids protection from diseases at the ages when those diseases are the most troublesome, and it doesn’t necessarily overload young kids with vaccines that they don’t really need until they’re older."

The problem is that vaccine timing is critical, Fisher says. Shots are scheduled at the earliest possible age and at the stage when the vaccine will work best with the immune system, she says.

“Let me give you a feel for why the schedule is the way it is. We know that a baby is born with the antibodies from the mother at the time of birth. During the last trimester of pregnancy, the immunoglobulin of the mom crosses the placenta and gets into the baby. The baby’s born with very good protection at birth for a lot of the dangerous organisms that we worry about,” she says.

“However, that protection… is halfway gone in a month. So each month, the baby has less and less of the antibody from the mom to protect it. So by giving those main immunizations in the first six months of life, we’re actually stimulating the baby’s immune system so that the baby’s making their own antibody at the same time they’re losing their mother’s antibody, so that it doesn’t leave them unprotected.”

Melinda Wharton, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, is aware that the large number of shots concerns parents. But, she says, "The biggest problem with spacing vaccines over a long period of time is that a child remains susceptible to disease longer than they need to. I wouldn’t want my children to be at risk of something that I could prevent."

Lack of Vaccination Carries Risk

Many parents worry about side effects from the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, Sears says. It was this vaccine that triggered the autism debate more than a decade ago. Numerous studies have shown no link between the two.

In his book, Sears suggests that if parents are comfortable, their children should start the MMR shot on the regular schedule at 12 months of age. But worried parents can delay the first MMR shot until their child enters day care or school. “You could safely delay the vaccine until your child enters school, since he is unlikely to come into contact with anyone who has one of these three illnesses,” he writes.

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