All children should be vaccinated. Skipping the shots leaves a child open to potentially life-threatening illnesses. The CDC estimates that vaccinating all U.S. children in a given year from birth until adolescence saves around 33,000 lives annually, prevents 14 million infections and saves our country around $10 billion in medical costs.

Sometimes being a good parent involves playing the statistics game. You do so every day you put your kids in the car and drive them somewhere. You’re weighing the necessity of getting your child to school, getting groceries to feed you family, etc., against the very real risk that you or your child might be seriously injured/killed in an auto accident.

When you take a trip to the beach or take your family skiing or hiking, you put your child’s life on the line. When your child starts school, they are entering an environment where pathogens of all kinds are lurking. In everything you do there is risk. The key is to measure the risk versus reward, reduce the risk as much as possible, and then take the best step. You can’t eliminate all risk, and you can’t lock your child in the room all day either. The question should not be whether there is some remote chance vaccines can cause harm, but whether they’re a good risk.

Statistically speaking, vaccinations are a much safer bet than getting in your car for a drive or enjoying a day of outdoor activities. It’s not even a close call. Even sending your child to school is riskier, where they will be exposed to pathogens from other children. Flu alone takes the lives of around 100 youngsters every year. (Many hundreds of times the number of kids killed by known sex-offenders.) So if you do these other things, there shouldn’t be any reason to shy away from immunizations, and the miniscule threat they bring.

Recently, we’ve seen outbreaks even in the United States of once eradicated illnesses among unvaccinated children, some of which have totaled hundreds of kids. As Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respirator Diseases at the CDC remarks, “We are seeing more outbreaks that look different, concentrated among intentionally un-immunized people. I hope they are not the beginning of a trend.” (Park, 2008) The chances of a child having a severe adverse effect from vaccinations are rather pale in comparison to the security gained through immunizing your child. One mother, whose son skipped a vaccination she considered unnecessary, almost died from one of the skipped diseases: the Hib virus. “I am angry that people are promoting not getting vaccinated and messing with peoples lives like that,” she now says. There can be severe consequences for skipping the shots, too.

Vaccine tips for parents

There are several things parents can do that most experts agree will lesson any risk that may exist, while helping ensure the most positive response from your child’s vaccination:

1. Space out your shots. The MMR vaccine schedule is merely a guideline, and can be modified if parents would like. As Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania notes, “the doctor-patient relationship isn’t a dictatorship; it’s a negotiation.” (Kotz, 2009) You can work with your doctor to set your child up on an alternate immunization schedule where shots are spaced out over greater periods of time. Just keep in mind this means more doctor visits and more co-pays, as well as more needle pricks for your youngster. Also, your child will need to maintain a schedule that keeps them caught up for starting school.

2. Avoid shots if your child is sick. Reschedule the appointment for when they are well. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against vaccinating a child if they are moderate to severely ill. The definitions of “moderate to severe” usually depends on the doctor’s judgment, but can include a fever, diarrhea, a hacking cough, or other signs of illness. It’s also wise to delay the shots if your child has a stomach bug or cold symptoms. Since the body’s immune system is already at work fighting off an infection, adding vaccinations to the mix can pump the system into overdrive and result in allergic reactions.

3. Acetaminophen has been shown to reduce the antibody response to immunization, so don’t give it to children when they get their shots.

4. Good sleep after vaccinations will also improve your child’s immune response.

5. To avoid the mild swelling or redness that many infants experience, ask your Doctor to give the DTaP vaccine shot in the thigh rather than the arm. It may cut his risk of developing a skin reaction in half according to a study in Pediatrics that examined one million kids ages 12 to 35 months who received the DTaP vaccine.

6. Though removed from regular vaccines, the flu vaccine still often contains thimerosal, a type of mercury. It’s an extremely small amount that is generally considered safe, but scientists still can’t agree on how long it stays in the child’s brain, or whether it causes any harm if accumulated over time (such as getting a flu shot year after year). Several companies do manufacture thimerosal-free flu vaccines which parents can opt for if they are concerned. Just keep in mind you may have to press your pediatrician to provide it, since many don’t currently stock these vaccines.

7. Be cautious when it comes to new vaccines. New vaccinations are tested with clinical trials that include thousands of children before being approved, but this may be too small to pick up on potential problems when those same vaccines are administered to millions of subjects. In one example, the original vaccine against rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhea and dehydration in infants, was tested on fewer than 1,300 American infants before being approved in 1998. One year and 1.5 million babies later, it was pulled from the market because of 13 confirmed cases of severe intestinal blockages that could be attributed to the vaccine. Granted, this was an extremely small correlation, but it goes to show how small problems can show up when the scale is enlarged, and most of these problems are worked out in later generations of the vaccine.