First published Spring/Summer 2009
“When we ask parents what they do to keep their children healthy, they mention hand-washing, good nutrition and other great, healthful habits, but vaccines are consistently at the top of the list,” says Michelle Basket, a specialist in health communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Today, there are 14 recommended vaccines for infants and toddlers (see the chart that follows the article), and the nationally recommended immunization schedule is endorsed not only by CDC but by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians as well. Fourteen may sound like a large number of vaccines, but each is potentially lifesaving.
Why Immunization Is Necessary
“We’re fortunate today that most parents of infants and toddlers in the United States don’t know firsthand how serious some diseases like polio, measles or whooping cough can be,” says Dr. Anne Schuchat, who directs CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “In part that’s because they were vaccinated, they never had the diseases, and they never saw anybody else with the diseases.”
Unfortunately, lack of firsthand knowledge about vaccine-preventable diseases may cause some parents to wonder if vaccines are necessary.
“Continuing to vaccinate infants and toddlers according to the recommended schedule is absolutely essential,” explains Dr. Schuchat. “There are lots of reasons to vaccinate, but I believe that for most parents, their top reason would be to keep their baby healthy.”
The diseases that vaccines prevent are still circulating. Whooping cough, chicken pox and flu are just three examples of vaccine-preventable diseases that are still present in the U.S. Polio and measles were wiped out in the U.S., but they are still circulating elsewhere in the world. For example, measles is present in both rich and poor nations.
So, at any time, vaccine-preventable diseases may find their way into our country and our communities, and infect people who are not protected. And, in general, these diseases can have the most serious consequences for infants, especially those younger than one year old.
Following the nationally recommended immunization schedule provides protection as early in life as possible. Vaccinating also protects the entire community, including children too young to be fully vaccinated yet.
Of course, every case of a vaccinepreventable disease is not life-threatening. But the possibility of serious disease or death always exists if a child is infected. And vaccines are very safe. So, there’s no need to take a chance by leaving your children unprotected.
The Truth About Vaccines and Autism … And Other Concerns
Despite the excellent safety record of vaccines, some parents today have concerns about immunizing their children. Some believe that vaccines do more harm than good. One example is the worry that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism. But science studies in large and small groups around the world have found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
“Vaccines are extremely safe and effective. There are well-known minor side effects — such as redness where the shot is given, low fever or bouts of crying — that your baby’s doctor or nurse will talk with you about,” says CDC pediatrician Dr. Lance Rodewald, who directs CDC’s programs aimed at making vaccines available to every child.
“The doctor or nurse will also tell you about possible serious side effects, which are very rare. In fact, it’s likely that your child’s doctor has never had a patient with a serious vaccine side effect,” says Dr. Rodewald. “Everything we know from good science studies tells us that vaccinating babies on time is safer by far than leaving them vulnerable to the diseases that vaccines prevent.”
For more information on vaccines, or on initiatives such as the Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) — which is for those who don’t have insurance or whose insurance doesn’t cover children’s vaccines — visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines, call 800-CDC-INFO or speak to your baby’s doctor or nurse.