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Vaccinations: Why Children Need Them

Posted on Aug 5, 2014 | 0 comments

Young girl getting vaccinated

With so much media attention on vaccinations, parents often wonder if they should have their children vaccinated.

“Although this may seem a personal choice, it’s important to know that vaccinations offer two critical benefits,” says Kathrin R. Sidell, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “Not only do they protect your own child against dangerous diseases, they also ensure other children don’t get them either.”

Parents often have concerns about vaccinations. Here Dr. Sidell provides answers to some of the most common questions.

Why should I have my child vaccinated?

Although many deadly diseases have been dramatically reduced or eradicated in the United States, it’s still just as important to have your child vaccinated. Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, which can cause serious complications that require hospitalization and sometimes even death.

Some diseases such as whooping cough (pertussis) are so common that if your child is not vaccinated he or she is at a high risk of getting this serious and sometimes deadly infection. In fact, whooping cough has reached epidemic proportions in California.

Many dangerous contagious diseases such diphtheria and polio still exist in other places in the world. Even if you don’t travel, given our highly mobile society, these deadly illnesses are just a plane ride away. For example, measles is still common in many places of the world, including parts of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles, which was thought to have been eradicated from the U.S. in 2000, is now on the rise again here. Most measles cases are the result of unvaccinated people bringing measles into the U.S. after they have travelled and gotten infected in other countries. Measles is the most deadly of all childhood illnesses and spreads very easily.

Most children are getting vaccinated. Do I still need to have my child vaccinated?

For immunizations to be effective, a critical percentage of people in the community need to be vaccinated. When immunization rates are low, people are more vulnerable to getting the disease and outbreaks occur.

You also need to keep in mind that some people, for example those with low immunity due to illnesses such as cancer, cannot get vaccinated. We truly depend on everyone who can get vaccinated to do so.

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines are rigorously evaluated and studied by expert committees with members from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In fact, they are among some of the safest things we put in our bodies.

Vaccines help your immune system build a response if it is exposed to an illness. Your child may experience a mild reaction after a vaccination. Other possible, mostly mild, side effects include a fever or tenderness or swelling at the vaccination site.

Vaccinations only include what is strictly necessary to ensure they are as safe as possible. This includes traces of gelatin to keep the vaccine stable and traces of antibiotics to prevent inadvertent contamination with bacteria.

If your child has any known allergies to eggs, yeast or gelatin, check with your child’s doctor before having him or her vaccinated.

Do vaccines cause autism?

No. Reputable medical and scientific studies show that there is no link between vaccinations and autism. Autism, a developmental disorder, is typically diagnosed when a child is between 18 and 30 months. This is also around the time children get the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine. This timing has led some people to believe that there is a link between the vaccine and autism. Research by Dr. Andrew Wakefield claiming a link between the two has since shown to be flawed and refuted by respected studies.

Can I decide when to have my child vaccinated?

The same experts that evaluate the safety of vaccines also determine the best and most effective vaccine schedule to maximize the immunity your child will receive from each vaccination. Your child’s doctor can provide you with information on the recommended vaccination schedule. You can also find the schedule on the CDC website.

Why do babies have to have so many vaccinations?

Most vaccinations are given to babies during the first year of their life because this is when they are most vulnerable to the diseases they are being vaccinated against. Once a baby is born, he or she is exposed to a multitude of bacteria, and has an excellent ability to respond and build a strong immune system. So this is the best time to have your child vaccinated.

Certain immunizations are given multiple times during the first two years of a child’s life to ensure the best immune response. Many will protect your child from a particular disease for his or her whole life. Another piece of good news is that the number of dangerous diseases we can help protect our children against with vaccinations is steadily growing. According to Vaccines.gov, children today can be vaccinated, and therefore protected against, 17 diseases and conditions. As recently as 1995, that number was only nine.

Kathrin Sidell, M.D., Ph.DKathrin R. Sidell, M.D., Ph.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

Please note that we are unable to respond to personal medical questions through the comments feature below. For information about personalized health care, or if you need help in choosing a PAMF physician, please visit Becoming a PAMF Patient (http://www.pamf.org/findadoctor) or call 1-888-398-5677. If you are a PAMF patient, you can email your doctor securely via our My Health Online program. Thank you

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