Why Immunizations Matter

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Going to the pediatrician to get immunizations can be a source of anxiety for kids and parents. When I was a kid, I remember hiding in my pediatrician’s office to avoid getting a shot because I was afraid of a small poke. As a grown-up and a nurse, I feel fortunate that my parents made sure that I was fully immunized because I was and continue to be protected against many contagious diseases that used to severely disable or even cause death many years ago.

Because of childhood immunizations, many diseases that were once a scary reality are now nearly unheard of in the United States. For example, my mother remembers back to her childhood when children and adults were paralyzed and wheelchair dependent because of Polio. Fortunately, there is a vaccine to protect against the polio virus and this disease virtually doesn't exist anymore. For this blog post, I partnered with Ronald Ferdman, MD, physician in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

How do Vaccines Work? (Tweet this)

A vaccine works by introducing an antigen (a weakened or inactivated form of a germ such as a bacteria or virus) into the body. The body’s immune system then produces antibodies, which are proteins that remember the antigen and are primed to fight off that harmful bacteria or virus if the body is exposed to it in the future.

Some vaccines are administered to children through a shot or injection under the skin or into the muscle and others are administered orally. There are also combination vaccines, which consist of two or more different vaccines in a single poke. These are just as safe and effective as individual vaccines.

How Many Vaccines do Children Need?

Infants and children receive vaccines according to a very specific schedule determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The schedule was designed so that children receive their shots when their body needs them most and when they will develop the best level of protection against specific germs. Here is a list of the recommended childhood vaccines:

  • Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine
  • Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine
  • Hepatitis A vaccine
  • Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
  • Influenza (flu) vaccine
  • Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • Meningococcal (meningitis) vaccine
  • Pneumococcal vaccine
  • Polio vaccine
  • Rotavirus

After reading this vaccine list, you may wonder why children need so many vaccines now, compared to many years ago. Dr. Ronald Ferdman in our Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy explains that every day children are exposed to hundreds of germs (e.g. foods, playground, public spaces, etc.) and that the number of vaccines entering a child’s body is just a small “drop” compared to the germs they are exposed to every day.

“Children get more vaccines than they did years ago. However, they are also protected against so many more life-threatening diseases that used to be a reality. Some vaccines that were available years ago are now more purified and work even better than before,” Ferdman says.

Common Vaccine Concerns

Some parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children because they worry about possible reactions or the effect on their child’s immune system. Vaccines are very safe and should be administered to all children to protect them from life-threatening illness. “There is no data that supports that vaccines weaken the immune system or that children get an increased number of infections as a result of immunization,” shares Ferdman.

Do Vaccines Have Side Effects?

Serious reactions from immunizations are extremely rare. Vaccines have been proven safe and effective for infants and children. While vaccines can sometimes cause mild reactions such as soreness or redness at the injection site or a fever, the effects are temporary. The benefits of immunization overwhelmingly outweigh the risks.

A common concern such as a connection between autism and the MMR vaccine has never been proven and the researchers who made the initial claim about a decade ago have admitted their data was falsified. It is so important to learn about vaccines from a reliable, scientifically backed source such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Ferdman warns parents that there is “a serious disconnect” between real evidence from research and what is available on a search in your Internet browser.

Why are Vaccines Still Important if Many of the Diseases Don’t Exist Anymore?

This is a good question. Ferdman explains that “once you back off” and stop immunizing the population, then vaccine-preventable illness can return. For example, people have a very short shared memory of how bad these diseases were and as a result may not choose to immunize their child. Recently, there has been an increase in measles cases in the United States because people have been avoiding getting the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine.

It is very important that your child is fully immunized so they and others around them are protected against serious illness. Talk with your child’s pediatrician to make sure that they are up to date.

During my research for this blog post, there was a quote from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that stuck with me, “In our mobile society, over a million people each day people travel to and from other countries, where many vaccine-preventable diseases remain relatively common. Without vaccines, epidemics of many preventable diseases could return, resulting in increased - and unnecessary - illness, disability, and death among children.” Now, that’s a wrap…it’s early fall as I write this and so I’m headed off to get my flu shot early!

I want to thank Dr. Ferdman for taking the time to speak with me and for partnering with me to share this very important information with you.