What You Need to Know About Immunizations
Immunizations have been helping children for more than 50 years. But parents still have questions about why children need them, particularly since the diseases they prevent are often now uncommon! The following information will explain why immunizations are still so important. It also will help clear up some common misinformation many parents have.
“I’ve heard that vaccines are not needed because these diseases were disappearing even before the vaccines were developed.”
This is not true.
Many diseases do not occur or spread as much as they used to, thanks to better nutrition, less crowded living conditions, antibiotics, and most importantly, vaccines. However, this does not mean that the bacteria and viruses that are responsible for these diseases have disappeared. Immunizations are still needed to protect children from these diseases.
For example, Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) diseases were a major problem a few years ago until the vaccine was developed for infants. Over several years, we went from 20,000 cases of Hib diseases to less than a few hundred. The vaccine is the only explanation for this decrease. Unvaccinated children are still at risk for Hib meningitis and other serious illnesses.
“Chickenpox is not a fatal disease, so that vaccine is not necessary.”
This is not true.
Each year, about 9,000 people are hospitalized for chickenpox. About 100 people die from the disease. The chickenpox vaccine will protect most children from getting chickenpox. Since the vaccine was licensed in 1995, millions of doses have been given to children in the United States. Many studies show the vaccine is safe and effective. Research is being done to see how long protection from the vaccine lasts and whether a person will need a booster shot in the future.
“I am breastfeeding so my child doesn’t need immunizations.”
Immunizations are still needed.
While breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby, it does not prevent infections the way vaccines do. Your child may have fewer colds, but breastfeeding does not protect against many serious illnesses such as whooping cough, polio, and diphtheria like immunizations do.
“These diseases have been virtually eliminated from the United States, so my child doesn’t need to be vaccinated.”
Without immunizations at the right times, your child can still catch infectious diseases that may cause high fever, coughing, choking, breathing problems, and even brain injury. These illnesses may leave your child deaf or blind or cause paralysis.
Immunizations have reduced most of these diseases to very low levels in the United States. However, some of these diseases are still common in other parts of the world. Travelers can bring these diseases into this country. Without immunizations, these infections could quickly spread here.
Immunizations also help people who cannot be vaccinated or who do not respond to vaccines. They can only hope that people around them are immunized.
“I don’t think vaccines even work. Most of the people who get these diseases have been vaccinated.”
Vaccines work very well.
Millions of children have been protected against serious illnesses such as polio, measles, and diphtheria because of vaccines.
There are always a few people who do not respond to vaccines. However, most childhood vaccines are 85% to 100% effective. Keep in mind that not getting vaccinated is 0% effective.
“I’ve heard that it is unsafe to immunize a child who has a cold and fever. Is this true?”
A child with a minor illness can safely be immunized. Minor illnesses include the following:
- low-grade fever
- ear infection
- runny nose
- mild diarrhea in an otherwise healthy child
“I’ve heard that some children have serious side effects from vaccines so they must not be very safe.”
Reactions to vaccines may occur, but they are usually mild. Severe reactions to vaccines are very rare. Symptoms of a more serious reaction include the following:
- Very high fever
- Generalized rash
- Large amount of swelling at the point of injection
If any of these symptoms occur, call your pediatrician right away.
If your child experiences any side effects after a vaccination, talk to your pediatrician. Together you can decide whether your child should receive another dose of the same vaccine.
Children with other health problems may need to avoid certain vaccines or get them later than usual. For example, children with certain types of cancers or problems with their immune systems should not get live virus vaccines like the MMR, varicella, or oral polio vaccines. For children with seizures, the pertussis part of the DTaP vaccine may need to be delayed. Ask you pediatrician when the vaccine can be given.
“I read that the DTP vaccine can cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).”
There is no scientific evidence that links the DTaP or DTP shot and SIDS. This myth continues because the first dose is given at 2 months of age, when the risk of SIDS is greatest. However, these events are not connected.
“I saw on the news that there are ‘hot lots’ of vaccines that are more dangerous than other lots.”
The federal government set up the national Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) to receive reports of vaccine reactions. People may think that if a large number of VAERS reports result from a particular batch of vaccine (a “hot lot”), then it must be dangerous. To date, no vaccine lot has ever been found to be unsafe based on VAERS reports.
Keep in mind, all vaccines are licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Vaccine manufacturing facilities are licensed and regularly inspected. In addition, every vaccine lot is safety-tested by the manufacturer. The fact that a vaccine is still being used means that the FDA considers it safe.
“I’ve heard that giving a child more than one immunization at a time can be dangerous.”
Studies and years of experience show that vaccines used for routine childhood immunizations can be safely given together. Side effects when multiple vaccines are given together are no greater than when each vaccine is given on separate occasions. Talk to your pediatrician if you are concerned about the number of vaccines your child is scheduled to receive.
They may hurt a little, and your baby may cry for a few minutes. There may be some temporary swelling where your child was injected. However, protecting your child’s long-term health is worth a few tears.
If your child is old enough to understand, explain that immunizations help prevent some very serious illnesses. Comfort and play with your child after the immunization. Acetaminophen can be used to help relieve some of the more common side effects, such as irritability and fever, but always check the dosage with your pediatrician.
“When should my child get immunized?”
Children’s immunizations need to be started when they are infants.
In fact, children should receive most of their immunizations during their first 2 years of life, starting at birth. Other immunizations are given before children go to school. Children who are behind on getting their shots are at risk. They need to get immunized to catch up and be protected.
Older children and teens also need immunizations. Ask your pediatrician for the Recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule to see when your child needs to get immunized. Keep track of each immunization your child receives. Check with your pediatrician to make sure your child’s immunizations are given on time and are up-to-date.
“Who should I call for more information?”
Call your pediatrician, local public health department, or community health center if:
- Your child is sick and is scheduled to receive an immunization.
- You need information about immunizations or your child’s health care needs.
Remember, immunizations are an important part of your child’s total health care. Immunize your child on time, and keep your child’s immunization record up-to-date. Make sure you take your child to the pediatrician’s office or a health clinic on a regular basis.Immunizations your child needs
Your child needs all of the following immunizations to stay healthy:
- MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles)
- Polio vaccine to protect against polio
- DTaP (or DTP) vaccines to protect against diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), and pertussis (whooping cough)
- Hib vaccines to protect against Haemophilus influenza type b (a major cause of spinal meningitis)
- Hepatitis B vaccine to protect against a virus that may cause liver disease
- Varicella vaccine to protect against chickenpox
- Hepatitis A vaccine in selected areas to protect against a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
This information has been provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics.