The importance of immunizations
By: Jessica Woodward, M.D.
Being a parent can be an extremely rewarding experience; but with it comes diligence and responsibility. One of these responsibilities includes the issue of children and immunizations.
Some parents worry about risks and side effects associated with vaccines. It’s important to know that serious side effects are extremely rare. In general, vaccines do a very good job of protecting children. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said immunization is the most important public health act in history.
If you decide not to vaccinate your child and he or she contracts a vaccine-preventable disease, you run the risks of serious complications. For instance, pertussis can cause brain damage and death; measles is accompanied by a risk of encephalitis; chicken pox can result in pneumonia, brain damage and death.
Before vaccines, the only way to become immune to a disease was to get it. Widespread use of vaccines in the United States has eliminated or nearly eliminated infectious diseases that were once terrifying household names including measles, diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, smallpox, rubella, haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), polio and tetanus.
While these vaccine-preventable diseases may be largely unseen in the U.S., they are not gone. Smallpox is the only disease that has been eradicated worldwide. For the others listed, outbreaks can and do occur and vaccination is still recommended.
Vaccines benefit individuals who get them, but they also benefit the population in general. If a critical number of people within a population are vaccinated against a particular illness, the entire group benefits from a decreased likelihood of getting the disease. However, if too many people from one group do not get vaccinations, diseases can reappear. For instance, in 1989, low vaccination rates allowed a measles outbreak in the U.S., resulting in 55,000 cases of measles and 136 measles-related deaths.
When it comes time for your child to visit the doctor and receive immunizations, there are a number of things you can do to prepare and make the appointment easier for everyone involved.
Come prepared. Read immunization hand-outs that your physician provides. Jot down any questions you may have. Bring your child’s immunization record to the appointment so you can show it to your doctor and update it after your child receives his or her shots.
If your child has a favorite comfort item such as a blanket or teddy bear, bring it to the appointment. Distract and comfort your child by singing, reading or talking softly. Try to appear calm and positive. Smile and provide eye contact. Try not to act anxious.
If you child has questions or is fearful, be honest, but do not go overboard with negative details. Tell your child that while the shot may hurt for a moment, it will help him or her from getting a serious illness. Encourage your child to breathe and to blow out the pain.
Provide positive support if you child cries. Hold and cuddle, using a soothing voice to praise your child for getting through the appointment.
The following vaccinations are recommended by age 2 and can be given over five visits to the doctor:
• 4 doses of diphtheria, tetanus & pertussis vaccine (DTaP)
• 3-4 doses of Hib vaccine (depending on the brand used)
• 4 doses of pneumococcal vaccine
• 3 doses of polio vaccine
• 2 doses of hepatitis A vaccine
• 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine
• 1 dose of measles, mumps & rubella vaccine (MMR)
• 2-3 doses of rotavirus vaccine (depending on the brand used)
• 1 dose of varicella vaccine
• 1-2 doses of influenza vaccine (6 months and older) (number of doses depends on child's birthday)
As parents, we want to protect our children in whatever ways we can. Staying up-to-date with immunizations is one good way to do this. If you have questions or concerns about any particular vaccine, talk to your child’s primary care physician.
Dr. Woodward is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.