Are There Alternative Schedules?
There are no official alternative vaccine schedules. No major medical group approves of them. And there is no research to show that they are safe, Simonsen says.
Still, some parents space vaccinations apart, as Dye did with her son. Others skip some. Parents or doctors invent some of these plans.
In The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child, Robert Sears, MD, writes that the schedules he put together “follow proper dosing intervals and age ranges that each vaccine is approved for.”
Most other pediatricians, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the CDC do not support any plan that steps outside of the official schedule.
Like Dye, parents who take this approach worry that too many shots too early will overwhelm their child's immune system or that specific ingredients in the vaccine will harm them.
But actually, alternative schedules may raise -- not lower -- the risk.
They have no benefit, "only a downside," for the child and the larger community, says Paul Offit, MD. He’s an infectious diseases expert at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who has written several books on vaccines.
Alternative schedules have not been formally studied, but there is some evidence that they may contribute to disease outbreaks.
"States where a high number of parents opt out [of vaccines] show an increased risk of infectious diseases," says Doug Opel, MD, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital. "It's significant and it's profound."
These are unvaccinated children. But from there, he says, it not a big leap to think kids who have some but not all shots will also fall short on protection.
What Does Your Doctor Say?
It’s not mainstream, but some doctors may be OK with adjusting the schedule a bit. Opel, for one, believes that some vaccination is better than none -- but that it’s best to stick with the official plan.
Stephanie Cave, MD, a family medicine doctor in Baton Rouge, LA, does not follow the official childhood vaccination schedule. Instead, she says she tailors it for each patient.
"I have a problem that the [official schedule] is supposed to cover everybody and treat everybody the same way," says Cave, who wrote a book called What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children's Vaccinations, which questions vaccine safety. "In my practice, we don't treat everyone the same way."