Northwest Arkansas Mama Doc: Important facts about immunizations

By Dr. Haley Vo, Mercy physician and mama of 3

As a doctor, most of the decisions I make are based on what the medical community calls “evidence-based medicine.” It means we make decisions based on the best research available to us. It also means we try to select the most well-designed studies. Researchers agree that the best designed studies are those that are “blind”- the researchers don’t know which people in the study received treatment and which didn’t.

The best studies are also random – the recipients who received treatment were selected randomly, not because the researchers wanted them to have or not have treatment. (Remember how Meredith gave the chief’s wife the trial medicine on Grey’s Anatomy? That compromised the integrity of the study because it was neither blind nor random. Then she almost got fired. Then she almost lost her child. Then she almost got divorced. But I digress…)

There’s a lot of discussion right now in the media about immunizations. Some people are for them, some are against them. A lot of people ask questions about why we should immunize, especially young children. As a parent, I don’t like to hold my children down and have them poked with needles. Honest. Just because I’m a doctor doesn’t make it any more fun.

I will say, though, I always breathe a sigh of relief when my children are immunized.  Why, you ask? Well, I’ve seen immunization-preventable diseases. They can be really unpleasant. And by really unpleasant I mean ICU kind of unpleasant. Are they most of the time? Of course not. I had the chicken pox at age 8. While I remember it as horrible and nasty, and I have several scars to this day, I obviously recovered just fine. But did you know that chicken pox can cause pneumonia? Or infect the brain? It can. And does.

In the first year of life, children are immunized against many things.  While it seems like a lot, the immunizations are important to keep everyone healthy. For instance, we now routinely immunize infants against bacteria called Streptococcal pneumoniae. This is one of the most common causes of pneumonia. It’s also one of the top causes of ear infections. This vaccine has decreased the incidence of invasive disease (that means bad – meningitis, an overwhelming infection called sepsis, and severe pneumonia) by about 70%. That’s an incredible number.

One of the most talked about vaccines is the MMR. There was an article released in the Lancet, which is a prestigious British medical journal, linking MMR to autism. The problem was, this was not a well-designed study. It was neither random nor blind. In fact, it was so egregious that the doctor that authored lost his license. Not only that, but the Lancet retracted that article. The whole thing. His results have never been able to be duplicated in a well-designed study.

I know several adults who had polio as children. I do not know the fear their mothers had. Literally, a child could go to bed with a runny nose, and wake up paralyzed. Thankfully, I’ve never seen this disease. And I don’t want to. I haven’t seen this disease because vaccinations developed in the 1950’s  have now eradicated the disease from most of the world.

So back to the beginning… everyday, I make decisions on how to help people live healthy lives by making informed decisions on the best research available. The best research available today says immunizations are safe for the vast majority of the population. It also says it helps prevents diseases, both in those who receive the vaccines, and those around them who cannot. I believe it’s a really important part of public health. It’s a serious topic, but one that needs to be discussed.

Please schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about vaccines. The health of your family, and those around you, depends on it.

To visit with Dr. Vo in person, you can schedule an appointment with her by calling the Mercy Clinic Primary Care Sugar Creek in Bella Vista.  It’s located at 24 Sugar Creek Center and the phone number is 479-876-1414. Same day appointments will be available at the clinic.

If you have a general health question for Dr. Vo, you can email it to and she may answer it in a future post.