When it comes to vaccines, can children get “too many, too soon”?

A few days ago I reported to you that anti-vaccine zealot Jenny McCarthy was joining ABC’s “The View” as a host. She is well-known for her false and misleading claims that vaccines cause autism, including her claim that when it comes to vaccines that children get “too many, too soon.” Ms. McCarthy is, unfortunately, not alone. “Too many, too soon!” is the favored battle cry of the anti-vaccine crowd. They claim that we doctors are giving “too many shots, too many antigens, too close together.” Why is they wrong?

Now, it is true that the recommended vaccination schedule exposes children to 5 live attenuated or altered organisms and 21 different antigens by age six. But, is this really “a lot”? Does this put an enormous burden on the immune system sending it spiraling out of control to damage some of our children? Does this explain the increase in autism diagnoses?

The simple answer: absolutely NOT. In fact, worrying about the antigen exposure from the vaccine schedule is like worrying about a thimble of water getting you wet while swimming in an ocean.

Perhaps one of the best videos I’ve seen that explains to parents why “too many too soon” is absolutely ludicrous has been produced by Academic Earth and can be viewed here. If you can’t view the video, here’s the transcript:

“Too many, too soon!” is the favored battle cry of the anti-vaccine crowd. Too many shots, too many antigens, too close together.

By age 6, the recommended vaccination schedule exposes children to 5 live attenuated or altered organisms and 21 different antigens.1, 2  Is this a lot? Does this put an enormous burden on the immune system sending it spiraling out of control to damage our children? Let’s find out.

It has been estimated that humans can generate about 10 billion different antibodies, each capable of binding a distinct epitope of an antigen.3 Actual estimates of antibody specificities in an individual, due to exposure to various germs and other foreign materials, range between 1 million and 100 million.4

We cannot say with absolute certainty how many antigens the average human is exposed to by age 18, but let’s say, as an argument, that you’ve had most of your antigen exposure by that age. Assuming total exposure is around 1 million antigens, this equals 152 unique exposures per day. Under this conservative estimate, by age 6, the vaccine exposure would account for .006% of the total antigen exposure of the child.

If a child is exposed to 100 million antigens by age 18, the rough maximum, we’re looking at 15,520 unique exposures per day. By age 6 that would be nearly 34 million antigens, and the vaccine schedule would account for 0.00006% of exposure.

No matter how you slice it, the vaccine schedule represents a miniscule exposure to antigens and organisms compared to what people encounter as part of life. Worrying about the exposure from the vaccine schedule is like worrying about a thimble of water getting you wet while swimming in an ocean.


1 United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html>.

2 Crislip, Mark. “The Infection Schedule Versus the Vaccination Schedule.” Science-Based Medicine, 21 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.

3 Fanning, LJ, AM Connor, and GE Wu. “Development of the Immunoglobulin Repertoire.”Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology. 79.1 (1996): 1-14. Print.

4 The University of Arizona. The Biology Project. “Problem 5: Antibody Diversity.Immunology Problem Set. Web 30 Apr. 2013.

This entry was posted in General Health. Bookmark the permalink.