Is It Safe to Postpone My Infant's Shots?

It's hard for new parents to feel good about infant immunizations when the office nurse comes toward their baby with three different syringes at one time. As many as 10 percent of parents space out immunizations rather than giving them on the recommended schedule, according to a 2011 NBC News report. But there's a difference between delaying immunizations and postponing them for long periods of time. Slowing down the immunization schedule may be safe, although not necessarily beneficial. Postponing shots indefinitely is not, for your baby or for other people in your community.

Parental Concerns

Kids have been getting vaccinated or immunized against common childhood diseases since the 1950s, but only in the past decade have so many parents expressed concern about the immunization schedule. One reason for this is that babies today receive so many more immunizations than their parents did. The 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination schedule calls for as many as 24 injections of 14 different vaccines by age 2, according to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia 2. In the 1980s, babies received five injections containing seven different vaccinations before age 2. The second reason is media attention to the risk of side effects -- some of which are real, and some of which are not.

Vaccine Risks

Despite the media spotlight, clinical trials haven't shown any evidence that immunizations cause long-term disorders such as autism. According to Kids Health, "Study after study has found no scientific evidence that autism is caused by any single vaccine, combination vaccines (like the MMR vaccine), or the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal, which was once widely used in many childhood vaccines but has since been eliminated." These concerns linger among some parents, but they are largely based on a discredited study, which the journal that published it has since retracted and called a deliberate fraud. Still, vaccines can cause side effects, which very rarely can be severe and dangerous. For example, potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis from allergic reactions occurs in about 1 out of every 600,000 vaccinations. Encephalitis, a brain inflammation that can cause permanent neurological damage, occurs less than once per 1 million doses administered.

Risks of Delaying Immunizations

Delaying immunizations means that your child will have no protection against contracting the disease for a longer period of time. Delaying vaccinations indefinitely doesn't mean your child will necessarily contract a disease; when most people receive vaccinations, herd immunity will often protect those who don't, according to pediatrician Dr. Bob Sears, who proposes an alternative vaccine schedule for parents hesitant to immunize their children 5. Herd immunity, also called community immunity, means that when most children get vaccinated, the disease doesn't have a chance to spread. However, when many parents choose not to have their children vaccinated, the herd immunity effect loses some of its strength. Even diseases seen as mild, such as chicken pox, can have serious complications such as encephalitis.

Reasons to Delay

In some cases, parents should delay taking their baby in for immunizations. If your baby has a mild cold, ear infection, low-grade fever or diarrhea, you can still have him safely vaccinated, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. A more serious illness, especially one that compromises your child's immune system, can be a reason to delay; talk to your pediatrician about adjusting his vaccination schedule.