Wellness: Diseases & Conditions
Why Childhood Immunizations Are Important
Childhood vaccines or immunizations can seem overwhelming when you are a new parent. Vaccine schedules recommended by agencies and organizations, such as the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians cover about 14 different diseases.
Vaccinations not only protect your child from deadly diseases, such as polio, tetanus, and diphtheria, but they also keep other children safe by eliminating or greatly decreasing dangerous diseases that used to spread from child to child.
A vaccine is a dead, or weakened version, or part of the germ that causes the disease in question. When children are exposed to a disease in vaccine form, their immune system, which is the body's germ-fighting machine, is able to build up antibodies that protect them from contracting the disease if and when they are exposed to the actual disease.
Over the years, vaccines have generated some controversy over safety, but no convincing evidence of harm has been found. And although children can have a reaction to any vaccine, the important thing to know is that the benefits of vaccinations far outweigh the possible side effects.
Keeping track of immunizations
Most of your child’s vaccinations are completed between birth and 6 years. Many vaccines are given more than once, at different ages, and in combinations. This means that you’ll need to keep a careful record of your child's shots. Although your doctor's office will also keep track, people change doctors, records get lost, and the person ultimately responsible for keeping track of your child's immunizations is you.
Ask your child's doctor for an immunization record form. Think about your child's record as you would a birth certificate and keep it with your other essential documents. You can also download an easy-to-read immunization schedule and record form at the CDC website.
Even though most parents and doctors do a good job of keeping up with immunizations, studies show that about one-fourth of preschool children are missing at least one routine vaccination. Most states will not let your child start school without a complete immunization record. Sometimes a vaccination is missed when a child is sick. No matter what the reason, it’s important to make up missed immunizations.
If your child has missed an immunization, you don't have to go back and start over for most vaccines. The previous immunizations are still good. Your doctor will just resume the immunization schedule. If, for any reason, your child receives additional doses of a vaccine, this is also not a concern, although your child will still need any future doses according to the recommended schedule.
How many shots do children need?
Although vaccines are combined to reduce the number of shots needed, the list is still long.
Here is a common immunization schedule recommended by age 2:
One vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
Four vaccinations for Haemophilus influenza (Hib), a common upper respiratory infection that can also cause meningitis
Three to four polio vaccinations (IPV)
Four vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DPT)
Three vaccinations for hepatitis B
One vaccination for varicella (chickenpox) no earlier than age 12 months and only if your child does not develop chickenpox on his or her own (must be verified by a health care provider)
Three vaccinations for rotavirus, a type of infection that causes severe diarrhea
Four vaccinations for pneumococcal disease, a common cause of ear infections and pneumonia
From age 4 to 6, your child will need booster shots for DPT, IPV, MMR, and chickenpox. Children should also start receiving a yearly flu shot after age 6 months. A vaccination for hepatitis A is recommended for all children. This is a lot to keep track of and why you need an immunization records form.
Final tips on immunizations
Keep this information in mind to help your child’s immunizations go more smoothly:
Common side effects of immunizations include swelling at the site of the injection, soreness, and fever. Discuss these side effects with your doctor and ask what symptoms deserve an office call.
Ask your doctor's office if it participates in an immunization registry. This is a source you can go to if your immunization records get lost.
Ask your doctor's office if it has an immunization reminder or recall system. This type of system will call to remind you when immunizations are due and will warn you if an immunization has been missed.
Always bring your immunizations record with you to all of your child's office visits and make sure the doctor signs and dates every immunization.
Vaccines are some of the safest and most effective medicines we have, and they have made many dangerous childhood diseases rare today.