In recent years, there has been continued debate about the risks and benefits of vaccination, but despite the noise, one thing remains clear: Vaccines help prevent infectious diseases and save lives. And if that isn’t reason enough, childhood vaccinations are recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For parents, ensuring your child receives the appropriate vaccinations should be a priority. Vaccines not only help safeguard your child’s health but also the health of the community in which you live.
According to the CDC, early vaccination is encouraged against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases, including: bacterial meningitis, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, influenza, rubeola (red measles), mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumococcal disease, polio, rubella (German measles), tetanus (lockjaw), rotavirus, varicella (chickenpox) and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Vaccines create immunity to certain diseases by using small amounts of a killed or weakened microorganism that causes the particular disease. Microorganisms can be viruses, like the measles virus, or they can be bacteria, like pneumococcus.
Vaccines stimulate the immune system to react as if there was a real infection. The immune system fights off the “infection” and remembers the organism so that it can fight the virus or bacteria quickly should it ever enter the body again.
While some vaccines may cause mild reactions, including fever, rash, vomiting and swelling at the injection site, serious reactions are rare. In fact, according to the CDC, severe reactions occur in fewer than 1 in 1 million doses.
The CDC offers this timeline for getting your child immunized:
• The hepatitis B vaccine should be administered to all newborns before being discharged from the hospital. After the first dose, a second vaccine should be given at 1 or 2 months of age. A final dose should be given at 6 to 18 months of age, but not earlier than 24 weeks.
• The first dose of the rotavirus vaccine should be given between the ages of 6 weeks and 14 weeks. The vaccine series should not be initiated if your child has reached 15 weeks and, according to the CDC, the maximum age for the final dose is 8 months.
• The diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine shouldn’t be given before the age of 6 weeks. The final dose to complete the series should be given between the ages of 4 and 6 years.
• There are two types of pneumococcal vaccine. The minimum age for the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PVC) is 6 weeks; this type is recommended for all children under the age of 5.
• The polio vaccine shouldn’t be administered before the age of 6 weeks. The final dose to complete the series should be given at age 4 and at least 6 months following the previous dose.
• The influenza vaccine should be given at 6 months of age or older and should be administered annually thereafter.
• Measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations shouldn’t be administered before a child’s first birthday. The second dose should be given between the ages of 4 and 6 years.
• The varicella vaccine shouldn’t be administered before a child’s first birthday. The second dose should be given between the ages of 4 and 6 years.
• The hepatitis A vaccine shouldn’t be administered before age 12 months, but is highly recommended for all 1-year-olds. Older children can receive this vaccine if they live in an area that has a high risk of infection.
• The meningococcal vaccine should be given to all 11- and 12-year-olds, with a booster recommended at age 16.
• The HPV vaccine can be given in a two-dose or three-dose series, beginning when a child is 11-12 years of age.
It is common for parents and caregivers to have questions about what is best for their children when it comes to vaccines. To learn more, talk to your pediatrician or visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
If your child does not have a regular pediatrician, visit 1-800-424-DOCS (3627) to find one that best fits your needs.
Chanda Newsome, RN, is the infection prevention and control coordinator at Wilson Medical Center.