Whether it’s getting ready to go back to school or bringing your newborn in for his or her two-month checkup, getting your child vaccinated is very important, but do you know why? Dr. Christine Smith, pediatrician on the medical staff at Centennial Medical Center, in Frisco, Texas, answers questions on what parents should know about vaccinations.
Q: Why should children be vaccinated?
Vaccines are the best way to protect children from becoming ill with serious and potentially fatal diseases. Having a large population of vaccinated people also helps protect those that are too young, too ill or unable to be vaccinated for some reason.
Q: How do vaccines protect the body?
When bacteria or viruses are introduced into the body, the immune system recognizes these elements as foreign, and antibodies are made against them. Antibodies help the person to fight the illness. Antibodies remain in the bloodstream after an infection, so that they can provide a faster response if that particular virus or bacteria is encountered again. Vaccines can be made from viruses or bacteria. They are made of weakened, killed or partial viruses or bacteria. Once a person has been vaccinated, he or she has circulating antibodies to the specific disease and will be able to create a faster response if the germ is encountered in the body, thus preventing illness.
Q: What age should children start getting vaccinated?
Most children receive their first vaccination at birth, providing protection against Hepatitis B. The next vaccines recommended occur at the two-month checkup.
Q: What are the main vaccination shots children should be getting and why?
The recommendation is that children receive all vaccines according to schedules published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These schedules have been well-researched, and are designed to protect children from specific diseases at their most vulnerable ages.
Q: Are there any side effects from immunization shots?
Vaccines, like any medication or treatment, do have side effects. The most common side effects with all vaccines are “local reactions,” meaning those that occur at the site where the shot was given. Redness, tenderness and swelling are examples of side effects.
Q: Once a child receives an immunization, does that mean he/she will never get the disease?
No, a child may still catch a disease even if he or she was immunized against it, but a vaccinated child is much less likely to suffer severe complications from the disease than those who are unimmunized.
Q: Are there different vaccines needed, later in life or more than once?
The childhood immunization series includes booster doses of certain immunizations that were given earlier in life. Flu shots are recommended for everyone, on an annual basis. Tetanus and diphtheria boosters (Td) are recommended at 10-year intervals. It is also recommended that all adults receive a Tdap booster once in their life, which combines tetanus and diphtheria boosters with a pertussis, or whooping cough, booster. This is especially important for parents and others who care for newborns, because newborns do not get vaccinated against whooping cough until two months of age. Adult vaccination schedules also recommend shots against zoster, also known as shingles, and pneumococcal, also known as pneumonia.