Are vaccinations safe for children?

Many parents have expressed concern about the safety of vaccinations for their children. However, the benefits far outweigh any risks. However, in my 30-plus years of practicing medicine, I’m aware of only one child who had a significant complication after getting vaccinated.

The truth is vaccine side effects are extremely rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the time the side effects are minor and go away within a few days.

This content originally appeared on
Hayden M. Pasco, MD
Family Medicine
Some people think that they should wait to vaccinate until their child is older. However, because their immune systems have not fully developed, children under the age of five are especially susceptible to disease. Although approximately 80% of all children in the United States receive the appropriate vaccinations on schedule, delays in vaccination have been linked to infectious disease outbreaks (specifically whooping cough/pertussis, which can be fatal) among young children. In 2013 in Wisconsin alone, 300 children under the age of one were diagnosed with pertussis, and 177 of them were under the age of six months. Half were hospitalized, and three of them died. By vaccinating early and on-schedule, you can protect your child and other children from disease.
The United States currently has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in its history. Before a vaccine is approved and given to children, it is tested extensively. Scientists and medical professionals carefully evaluate all the available information about the vaccine to determine its safety and effectiveness. As new information and science become available, vaccine recommendations are updated.

Although there may be some discomfort or tenderness at the injection site, this is minor compared to the serious complications that can result from the diseases these vaccines prevent. Serious side effects from vaccines are very rare.

The presence of the CDC logo and CDC content on this page should not be construed to imply endorsement by the US Government of any commercial products or services, or to replace the advice of a medical professional. The mark “CDC” is licensed under authority of the PHS.
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Nearly everything we do involves some level of risk. The risk of dying in a car accident is one in 6,700. The chance of drowning in the bathtub is one in 840,000. The risk of a serious reaction from a vaccine is small by comparison: one in a million for the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine, for example. And yet most of us don't hesitate to give a child a bath or a ride in the car.

Each day we make choices that require weighing the risk to ourselves or the people who depend on us. The risk of a serious adverse event (defined as hospitalization, permanent disability, life-threatening illness, or death) from a vaccine is extremely low but for some people, no amount of risk is acceptable. With that in mind, consider the risk of serious illness or death that comes with the choice not to vaccinate -- a risk that grows as more people decline to vaccinate their children.

For example, doctors in Colorado decided to track vaccination choices following an upswing in cases of pertussis (whooping cough) that caused 140 deaths from 2000 to 2005. They checked the medical records of children who contracted pertussis to see if the parents had refused vaccination for their children. The results showed that children who had not been vaccinated were 23% more likely to get pertussis, a disease that causes uncontrollable coughing lasting for weeks or months, severe vomiting, blue lips, and sometimes death.

Vaccines are not perfect but the point is that those who do not receive the vaccine are the people who are most likely to succumb to a preventable disease should it begin to spread.

Continue Learning about Vaccines & Immunizations

Vaccines & Immunizations

Vaccines & Immunizations

Vaccines are commonly given to children in the form of a shot to help prevent serious diseases like measles and mumps. Vaccines are developed using either dead strains of a disease, weakened strains, or strains of a different dise...

ase. As adults, we receive flu vaccines or may need a booster of childhood vaccines to retain immunity. Travelers may receive vaccines either as a condition of entry to a country, or on recommendation of health officials. Generally there is little or no reaction to a vaccine, but in some cases the vaccine may cause an allergic reaction or a temporary, mild illness. Some vaccines are not safe for pregnant women, so it’s important to check with a healthcare professional.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.