To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? The safety and efficacy of immunizations have been debated for many generations. When it comes to raising children, there are a lot of decisions to be made, which can lead to anxiety for you as a parent. However, information is power. The more informed you are, the easier it is to confidently make decisions for your children.

The following is a list of commonly asked parental questions and concerns. It is important, however, that you feel comfortable enough to speak openly with your child’s health care provider so that you can determine the risks and benefits for your individual children.

1. Is it necessary to immunize my child against vaccine preventable diseases that have not been around for many years?

The reason these diseases have not been around for so long is because of widespread vaccination and herd immunity — an effect that occurs when enough people are vaccinated that people who can’t get the vaccine are also protected from a virus. Although it’s hard to imagine this benefit if you’ve never personally experienced or been witness to any potentially deadly diseases in your lifetime, vaccinations have proven to be the main cause of a person’s good health today in the U.S. The chance that these diseases would come back, however, could increase if a significantly smaller number of people are vaccinated. Vaccines not only protect your child, but many other people you care about.

2. Isn’t it better for my child to be exposed to the actual disease rather than develop immunity from a vaccine?

Although the chance of your child getting a vaccine-preventable disease is statistically low, there is an advantage in passive immunity, which occurs when you receive a vaccine, over active immunity, which develops when you are infected with the actual virus. The major advantage of a vaccine is more immediate protection with a less severe physical response, fewer symptoms, and a lower risk of complications. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website, “Your child might never need the protection vaccines offer. However, you don’t want them to lack the protection vaccines provide if they ever do need it.”

3. What about the side effects?

The most common side effects of vaccinations, if they do occur, are typically minor, regardless of the specific type of vaccine. These side effects may include pain or swelling at the injection site and a low-grade fever for one to two days following administration. Severe, long-lasting side effects or anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) is extremely rare. In addition, vaccines are continually monitored for safety just like any other medication. Read the “Vaccine Information Statement” provided by your child’s health care provider or visit the CDC website for more detailed information about specific vaccines.

4. What about the time and money?

Most insurance companies cover vaccines at 100%. There is a federal program in place for coverage of children who are underinsured or uninsured. Not only do childhood vaccinations have minimal-to-no cost, in the long run, they can also help parents by limiting the amount of time taken off work or the added health care expenses for having a sick child. The development of combination vaccines has also helped lower costs. Giving several vaccinations at the same time with a single needle stick also means fewer office visits and less trauma for your child.

5. What about the other substances in the vaccines?

Vaccines today no longer contain the preservative thimerosal, which once caused concern regarding exposure of an infant to a higher than recommended level of mercury. According to past and present scientific research, there is no relationship between vaccines (particularly MMR) and autism or between thimerosal and autism. Yes, there are trace amounts of other additives found in vaccines, but the substances that remain are already found normally in the human body. For more information about these ingredients, visit the CDC website.

For more information about childhood immunizations, ask your child’s health care provider or visit cdc.gov/vaccines/