Myths and Facts About Vaccines for Children

A health professional putting a Band-Aid on a girl.

Over the years, vaccinations that help protect children from infectious diseases such as measles and mumps have saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S. and prevented millions of hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But there’s so much confusing information online about vaccines for children these days that it can be tough to know what’s true and what’s not. Can vaccines really make kids sick? Should shots be spaced out as much as possible so their immune systems don’t get overwhelmed?

As your child gets ready to go back to school, you may be wondering about the safety of required immunizations. Here, some common myths about vaccines for kids—and what you need to know now.

Myth 1: The MMR Vaccine Causes Autism

A study published in 1998 purported to link autism to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine—which children typically receive at 12 months and four years of age—generating headlines and fear.

But that study has been widely and soundly debunked, and an overwhelming majority of experts agree that vaccines for children aren’t a factor in autism. (In fact, Andrew Wakefield, the lead author of the study, was ultimately forbidden to practice medicine in the United Kingdom, in part because he falsified the study’s findings.)

According to Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, since that erroneous study was published, numerous other studies have found no connection between autism and vaccines. (Get a rundown of all the medical studies about vaccines for children and autism here, and more on the topic from the CDC here.)

Swanson says she understands why people might think the two are linked. The MMR vaccine is administered at the same phase in children’s lives when they may first begin to show signs of autism spectrum disorder, such as not responding when called by name, seeming oversensitive to noise, and more.

Myth 2: It’s Safer to Space Out Kids’ Vaccines

Each year, the CDC recommends a vaccination schedule for children. (It has one for adults as well.) This tells healthcare providers and parents when youngsters should receive vaccines for a variety of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis B, rotavirus, human papillomavirus, and tetanus.

But some people worry that having so many vaccines in a short period of time early in life—children can get as many as 29 shots by age 6, not counting a yearly flu vaccine—may overwhelm kids’ immune systems.

So some parents request that doctors delay vaccines or spread them out. In a 2012 survey of pediatricians by researchers in Colorado, nearly 93 percent said that in a typical…