Childhood Immunization: Everything You Need To Know


Three Reasons We Need Childhood Vaccines

To vaccinate or not? Childhood immunizations are a hotly debated topic among parents, the news media, and the medical profession. Despite arguments to the contrary, scientific evidence suggests that the short- and long term benefits of childhood immunization greatly outweigh any immediate risks. Smallpox, for instance, has been eradicated through global immunization efforts. Currently, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14 life-threatening diseases can be prevented with childhood vaccines. As a parent, you have the ultimate power to decide what is best for your family, but here are three important reasons to immunize your child.

1. Immunizations Protect Your Child

Young children’s immune systems are vulnerable to begin with, so they are susceptible to many types of illnesses. Being vaccinated will safeguard them in situations when they are around unvaccinated people. Childhood immunizations are intended to protect your child from serious diseases such as measles, polio, and tetanus. While some children have mild reactions to shots, the vaccines themselves are not likely to cause serious illness.

2. Immunizations Protect The General Population

Having your child vaccinated also helps to protect the health of anyone who comes into contact with him or her. Newborns who have not yet been immunized and children who cannot be vaccinated because of medical conditions, such as leukemia, are at risk of contracting diseases from other unvaccinated children. Unvaccinated adults and those with certain medical conditions may be susceptible to illness, as well. When a large enough percentage of the population is immunized, the spread of contagious diseases can be contained, protecting even those who have not been vaccinated. This phenomenon is known as “community immunity.”

3. Immunizations Prevent Economic And Social Costs For Everyone

Medical treatment is more costly than prevention, for individuals and for society. Parents who care for their sick children often lose wages from missing work, while their children suffer from lost school days. Over time, having your child vaccinated can save you money on visits to the doctor’s office or emergency room. As a result, the healthcare industry will spend fewer resources on treating costly medical problems. Parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated might have limited educational options, since they will not be able to enroll them in most schools or childcare programs. Many vaccines are covered by insurance, and parents facing financial hardship have options for obtaining them free or at a reduced cost. State and federal programs include the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the federally funded Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program, with vaccines available at participating private doctors’ offices and public health clinics.


How Do Vaccines Work?


One of the worst experiences that parents endure is seeing their child become seriously ill. In generations past, it was almost a given that at least one child in a family would come down with a serious communicable illness. In many cases, children died at a young age from these diseases. Today, however, parents take for granted the health of their children. Immunizations are largely responsible for this increased optimism in decreased child mortality rates. Still, there is a lot of controversy surrounding immunization. Even parents who diligently follow their pediatrician’s schedule may not understand what an immunization is and how vaccines work.

The Biology of Vaccines

While many parents do not take the time to examine the science, vaccines actually work using a very simple formula. Whenever a disease is introduced into the body, it naturally creates antibody cells to fight the disease. If the same disease organism returns at a later time, the body is prepared with a troop of these fighter cells to head it off before illness strikes. Immunizations take a dead or weakened form of common diseases and introduce them purposely into the body. Because the immune system can tell no difference between active and dormant disease cells, it initiates the immune response, creating antibodies. This protects against the live form of the disease when a child is exposed to it, creating long-term immunity.

Does Breastfeeding Create Immunity?

It is clear that breastfeeding an infant has numerous benefits, both physical and emotional. Studies do indicate that a young baby can reap the benefits of its mother’s immune response. A mother’s antibodies can pass through breastmilk and provide protection to the infant. This immunity is not permanent and should not be used as a substitute for immunization. At best, this “borrowed” immunity lasts no more than the baby’s first year. At this point, the baby’s own immune response is necessary to provide disease protection. In addition, young infants are at the most risk if exposed to many diseases, including whooping cough, which is potentially deadly in young babies. In addition, older babies who may have the ability to better fight a disease can pass it on to less protected peers, creating a dangerous situation.

The biggest controversy surrounding vaccines in the recent decades definitely is connected with immunizations and their connection to developmental diseases such as autism. Thousands of parents are absolutely convinced that their children were completely normal until vaccines were introduced into their bodies. This is a very emotional issue and it is hard to tell parents that they are misinformed or that their child’s regression is a coincidence. There is certainly anecdotal evidence that suggests that there is a link between childhood vaccination and autism symptoms. However, the scientific studies just do not prove that to be true. Numerous studies, including one that uses extensive Danish health records, show absolutely no link. However, for extra cautious parents, the most concerning vaccine is the MMR blend. If you are concerned, it is okay to slightly delay vaccinating your child for these diseases and ask for individual preparations instead of the blended version.

Vaccines can help protect against dangerous or even life-threatening diseases. This is especially important for children, but childhood vaccines are often effective through adulthood, and those that are not are still worth the protection provided to the child.


What Vaccines Should I Give My Child?


Click here for a more detailed Vaccine schedule

Before Six Months

One of the first vaccines a child receives is for Hepatitis B. This vaccine series is typically begun shortly after birth and is recommended before the child is two months old. In cases where the mother has tested positive for Hepatitis B, the vaccine is given less than twelve hours after birth. This vaccination is done again between the ages of six and eighteen months.

At Six Months

A six-month-old should be immunized against Polio and the Flu. Polio is a very dangerous disease and vaccination is usually required before a child can start school. It is recommended that children have their first Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine, or IPV, between the ages of six to eighteen months. The final vaccination is given when the child is between four and six years old. Many children now also receive a yearly influenza vaccination, or flu shot. It is recommended that the first flu shot be administered at about six months of age and be repeated every year. This vaccination is administered throughout both childhood and adulthood.

At a Year Old

Many immunizations are recommended for children at twelve months. One of these vaccinates against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella and is known as the MMR shot. The first dose is typically given when the child is between twelve and fifteen months. The second dose is administered between four and six years of age. The Varicella, better known as Chickenpox, vaccine can be administered during the same time-range as the MMR vaccine. This is not usually necessary if the child has already had the disease. Experiencing the disease accomplishes immunization, but is much more unpleasant and may even be dangerous for the child.

Another vaccine that is recommended for a one-year-old is the Pneumococcal vaccine. This is meant to protect against pneumonia, bacterial meningitis, and blood poisoning. All of these diseases are especially dangerous for young children. It is recommended that the child be vaccinated at twelve to fifteen months of age. The Haemophilus Influenzae Type B, or Hib, vaccine is typically given between the ages of twelve to fifteen months. Two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine are recommended for children between one and two years old.

Fifteen Months and Above

Children between fifteen and eighteen months are expected to have their first DTAP, Diptheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis, vaccination. A second shot should be administered at four to six years, and a third is often given between the ages of eleven and twelve. Eleven and twelve year olds should also have a Meningcoccal vaccination, and females in this age group should receive a Human Papillomavirus vaccination.


What If Your Child Misses a Shot?


How common is it for children to miss vaccines

According to a 2008 report issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 28 percent of toddlers had not been vaccinated “according to U.S. guidelines,” and only nine percent of all children had received all of their vaccines on time.

How does missing a vaccine affect my child and others?

Missing a vaccine leaves your child open to contracting the disease(s) that the shot was intended to prevent. Furthermore, when your child misses a shot, it is not only his or her own health that is potentially compromised, but also the well-being of the community at large.

Why do some children miss getting their shots

Some parents fear the side effects of certain vaccines and choose to skip or postpone shots. However, while a small number of children might experience irritation at the injection site, they very rarely have a serious reaction to vaccines.

Other parents might feel it is unnecessary to have their child get a shot for a disease that does not exist where they live. Yet an illness could still be present elsewhere in the world, and international travel, either by your child or by someone coming into the country, could expose your child to the disease.

Still other children might miss their shots if their immunization records have been lost. Since there is no central location for children’s vaccination data, it is a parent’s responsibility to maintain accurate immunization records and keep them in a secure place.

What should I do if my child missed a shot?

First, if you are unsure whether your child received a particular shot, a doctor can perform a blood test to detect the presence of antibodies for certain diseases. In addition, according to most physicians, there is no harm in repeating most shots. They also advise parents not to intentionally postpone their children’s shots in hopes of making them up later, since it is not worth the risk of contracting preventable diseases.

In most cases, you can pick up where you left off with a catch-up schedule. If the missed shot was part of a series of doses, such as for tetanus or diphtheria, the series does not necessarily have to be restarted. In 2008, the CDC, along with the Georgia Institute of Technology, developed a catch-up scheduler, a downloadable tool that can be used by both parents and physicians to get a child’s immunizations back on track.

Even teenagers can make up for shots that they have missed. Certain vaccines are sometimes required for college entrance or for particular jobs. It is also important to keep vaccinations up-to-date in case it becomes necessary to travel internationally. Travelers are advised to plan carefully because it can take up to two weeks after being vaccinated for the body to build up its immunity to the disease.

To avoid missing shots, it is vital to keep accurate records. Vaccination schedules and other immunization guidelines are widely available. They can be obtained by consulting with a physician or by getting the information from a reputable online source, such as the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).


Find a Local Pediatrician in Your Area


Protecting your child is a very important part of being a responsible parent. However, no matter how close you watch your little one, there are risks that you just cannot avoid. Children will get hurt. They will get sick. At times, you will probably feel helpless. In situations like these, it’s important and comforting to have an advocate on your side. Your local pediatrician will listen to your concerns, provide extra protection in the form of immunizations and become a partner and an advocate for your child’s health. Finding a local pediatrician does not have to be difficult.

Preparing Before Birth

You do not have to wait until your child is born to choose a pediatrician. In fact, because so many immunizations are started at a young age, you should have at least a preliminary plan in place before your baby arrives. According to the Centers of Disease Control, the first required immunization, Hepatitis B, is administered at birth and will be taken care of by the hospital staff where you deliver. If you deliver at home, you will be responsible for scheduling this vaccine as soon as possible. The schedule proceeds from there with required shots beginning at one month of age, so having a pediatrician selected is important in order to build your baby’s immunity.

If you appreciate the approach of your obstetrician, it can be helpful to aks about a pediatrician that they recommend. It’s also a good idea to talk to other parents who have similar parenting philosophies as well and ask for their favorite local pediatrician. Once you have a list of possibilities, visit each office and spend some time interviewing each doctor.

Exploring Nontraditional Ideas

Every parent is different and not every parent will appreciate the ideas and approaches of every pediatrician. While immunizations are an important part of childhood health, your child’s well-being is ultimately your personal responsibility. One of the most important qualities in a pediatrician is his ability to listen to and respect your concerns, practices and ideas. If you wish to delay vaccines, for example, it can be a huge hassle if you end up with a pediatrician that does not support or respect that decision. The best pediatrician provides solid information, but is also flexible enough to realize that you are still the final responsible party for your child. Even if you plan to fully follow the CDC’s immunization recommendations, there will probably be at least one issue where you will differ from the majority. Your pediatrician’s attitude at times like this will make the biggest impact on your child’s health and your satisfaction with their care.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Changes

While it is true that a pediatrician develops a relationship with your family, you aren’t obligated to stick with a doctor that isn’t meeting your child’s needs. If you find that each visit is generating conflict and your doctor is not respecting you as a parent, make changes. Be cautious and respectful in your approach so that your child continues to receive scheduled vaccinations and appropriate care while you are making the change. Interview the new pediatrician candidates before canceling care at your present doctor. Once you have selected a replacement, inform your pediatrician’s office that you have selected a new care provider and ask that all records be moved to the new doctor.

A Final Word

One of the primary responsibilities of parenthood is to promote the health and safety of one’s children. Along with encouraging their safety by using car seats and childproofing your home, you see to your family’s routine medical care, including any necessary vaccinations. Your pediatrician’s office may not remind you, so it is important to stay current with immunizations. If you plan to enroll your child in a school or daycare, be sure to check their requirements well in advance.

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