Importance of Vaccinations
Pediatric immunizations have changed the world! Parents used to live in fear of their child getting common diseases that could kill, blind, disfigure or disable their child. For kids who were not severely affected, they still cost lots of missed school, medical bills and missed work for parents. Thanks to some amazing vaccines, most of those illnesses have become rare in our country.
Some parents were afraid to bring their child to the doctor’s office for routine well visits early on during the COVID pandemic. This put many children behind in getting all the needed vaccinations. As children return to usual activities, common illnesses have quickly returned. Vaccine preventable illnesses will also increase if we don’t improve immunization rates.
The diseases that we immunize against are still out there and will spread if children are not protected. Some parents I talk to don’t think children are at risk of getting the diseases vaccines prevent because they don’t happen in our country. While infections from illnesses like measles are uncommon in the US, they do happen. In recent years I personally have diagnosed children in my practice with pertussis, varicella and mumps.
Vaccines can be highly effective, but none offer 100% protection. It is important that the majority of children be immunized in order to prevent spread to those who are not immunized or cannot be immunized because they have an illness such as leukemia. For really contagious diseases, like measles, we need at least 95% of people vaccinated to prevent an outbreak. We have recent examples of measles outbreaks in the US in communities with low immunization rates. According to the CDC, we had 704 cases of measles in 2019, which was the highest number since 1994, and almost all cases were in unvaccinated people. This is very concerning as we are dealing with growing pockets of unvaccinated children.
Vaccines are Safe
Some parents worry that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases that vaccines prevent. Part of this is because vaccines have been so successful that parents don’t have personal experience with these diseases. I can remember when I was younger, my cousin was hospitalized with epiglottitis and needed a hole in her trachea to breathe. It was caused by haemophiles influenzae type b infection. Thanks to an immunization that came out shortly after, I have never taken care of a patient with that illness. Parents can learn more about the diseases the vaccines prevent from sites like CDC.gov or Healthychildren.org.
All vaccines given to children go through a long process to confirm that they work and are safe. Once vaccines are licensed, they are continually monitored for adverse reactions that may not have been detected in the initial studies. When concerns were brought up that vaccines like the MMR were causing autism, studies were compiled to evaluate this concern. Vaccines do not cause autism.
Vaccines by Child Age
We start protecting children with the hepatitis b vaccine just after birth because hepatitis b can be contracted at birth. Babies require 2 more doses between the ages of 1-6 months.
Then, at the two-month visit, we give multiple vaccines. Formulations of injections that contain multiple vaccines are used in as few as 2 needles to protect against 8 different diseases, and one vaccine is given orally. These vaccines are repeated at 4 and 6 months of age. The child is not fully protected until they complete these series of vaccinations. They get booster doses of some of these vaccines again between 12 and 15 months and then between 4 to 5 years of age. The illnesses we immunize against are diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, polio, haemophilus b, hepatitis b, rotavirus and pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal disease can cause sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, and ear infections. Rotavirus causes a diarrheal illness and the vaccine to prevent it is the only one we currently give by mouth.
- At the age of 1, children are given MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and varicella vaccine (chicken pox). They will need a booster dose between the ages of 4 and 5 years.
- Hepatitis A vaccine is given in 2 doses at 12-15 months and 18-24 months. Some teenagers may not have been given this as infants and should get caught up at this point. Hep A causes outbreaks every year, including a recent case connected to contaminated strawberries.
- 11-year-old children should be boosted with the tetanus and pertussis (Tdap), meningitis ACWY, and HPV vaccines. HPV is a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts. A second dose is needed 6 months later. It is recommended for girls and boys.
- 16-year-old teens need a meningitis ACWY booster vaccine and can discuss the option of meningitis B vaccine with their doctor.
- Influenza vaccine is recommended for children starting at 6 months of age. The first season they get it they need a second dose one month later. Then they should get a single dose every fall.
- You can find out more information about each shot, possible side effects and when to get them at CDC.gov.
In summary, vaccines are safe and effective. As a mother and a doctor, I felt very comfortable getting my own children immunized and recommend them for my patients.
Diana B. Kudes, MD, FAAP | Pediatrics Specialist
Suburban Family Medicine at Norristown | 2705 DeKalb Street | Suite 202 | Norristown, PA | 19401 | (610) 275-7240
Dr. Kudes is a board-certified pediatrician who has practiced at Suburban Family Medicine at Norristown for the last 15 years. Dr. Kudes completed her medical education at Temple University School of Medicine in 2001 and completed her residency at Golisano Children’s Hospital in 2005.
She is part of the teaching faculty at the Suburban Family Medicine Residency program and is clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at PCOM. She is member of the Pennsylvania AAP School Health Committee.