What are the current recommendations for vaccination? The routine vaccines given today protect for: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, HIB, rotavirus, measles, mumps, rubella, pneumococcal, hepatitis A and B, HPV, meningococcal and influenza infections. A detailed schedule is available online at www.cdc.gov/vaccine. We begin vaccinating babies at birth, 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 18 months. Then booster shots are given at 5 years (the kindergarten shots) and again at 11-12 years. As you can see there are a lot of immunizations to be given, especially in the first 18 months of life. It is therefore very important to adhere to the current recommended schedule so that all of the immunizations can be received.
Why do we still need vaccines? Fortunately, most of us have grown up in an era free of diseases like polio, tetanus, diphtheria, and measles. We are a generation removed from the experience of children dying from these once common diseases. Make no mistake though, these illnesses are still out in the world and could become commonplace again if we don’t continue to immunize. Not only do vaccines protect the individual, but when many people are vaccinated we are all protected by “herd” immunity. This means that when most people are immune to a certain infection, they cannot pass it along to those who have not been immunized. This herd immunity also protects those that are too young to receive a certain immunization or those immunocompromised due to illness or chemotherapy.
What happens when not enough children get immunized? Recently outbreaks of measles have occurred. Unfounded fears about giving measles vaccine (MMR) lead to many people refusing vaccines for their children. This group was unprotected and then accidentally exposed to the measles. The measles virus is extremely contagious and quickly spread to many other unvaccinated people. These are a preventable events.
How can we be sure that vaccines are safe? Â In our current Google /internet savvy society, there are now many myths about immunizations that have gotten perpetuated. As a pediatrician, I hear many of the concerns that parents have about immunizations. One is that there is a link between autism and MMR or other vaccines. This has been proven false in numerous scientific studies, the most recent being a study at Columbia University in 2008. The study found no link between MMR and autism.
A second myth is that giving too many vaccines at once could somehow over power the immune system, or be too much for the body. Fortunately this is not true. As our body can handle several infections at once, so too can it respond to multiple vaccines given at once. Also remember that the vaccine is only a killed or weakened version of the bacteria or virus. You cannot get the infection from the immunization.
There are some side affects from vaccines- the most common being fever, pain at the injection site and soreness after the injection. These can be relieved with Tylenol. Rarely an allergic reaction can occur to part of the vaccine components. If this occurs, the allergy is treated and the vaccine should not be given again. Other adverse reactions are extremely rare.
Finally, Vaccinating your child is one of the best and most important decisions you make to keep your child healthy. It is important to get all the facts so that you can make an informed decision. Some websites I recommend include: www.aap.org and www.cdc.gov/vaccines. Talk with your doctor about your concerns, and keep your child’s well check up appointments. Prevention is truly our best ally in the fight against infectious disease.