Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Protect your child against contagious diseases with immunizations

by John C. Christenson, M.D.

July 01, 2013

One of the best ways a parent can protect a child is by ensuring he has the right vaccines at the right time. Your child’s pediatrician or family doctor can help.

Children are left susceptible to contagious diseases, such as chickenpox, measles or hepatitis if they are not immunized. Some of the diseases are debilitating, have life-long effects, and can even be deadly. Vaccinations are extremely important for the health of your child as well as the health of the community. Millions of lives have been saved thanks to vaccines. 

Each year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publish an updated recommended immunization list and schedule for children (birth through six years) and for preteens and teens (seven - eighteen years) which are available online and likely available at your doctor’s office. 

How do vaccines prevent disease?

1. A weakened form of the disease germ or a part of its structure is injected into the body.

2. The body responds by making antibodies, a type of protein in our body that helps fight these invaders.

3. If the germs ever try to attack our body, the antibodies will return to destroy them and prevent infection.

It can be difficult to watch your children receive a shot—but trust me—not nearly as painful as watching a child suffer with a disease you could’ve helped prevent. Multiple vaccines are often combined into single injections whenever possible to reduce the number of shots a child needs. Certain vaccines, such as those for measles or hepatitis B, last a lifetime. However, periodic shots, known as boosters, are needed for certain diseases—such as tetanus. 

Flu shots are another vaccination that is needed more than once. Physicians recommend an influenza shot for children six months and older every year. Pregnant women need a flu shot too because having the flu when pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight of a baby and death of the mother. Plus, a flu shot for mom helps protect the baby after birth too. Infants are susceptible to the flu but can’t receive a vaccine until at least six months old. When mom receives a flu shot during pregnancy, the antibodies she develops are passed through the placenta to help protect the baby.

Vaccine risks, side effects

There are risks with all medicines—including those in vaccines. However, the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. In recent years, media outlets have fueled the fear of some parents that vaccines can cause conditions such as autism. Organizations such as the CDC, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization all agree that there’s no evidence that vaccines cause autism. 

Potential reactions from a vaccine shot can include soreness, redness, swelling at the site of the injection and fever. These reactions are temporary and will subside. For the health and safety of your child, make plans now to speak to your family doctor to ensure everyone in your family is getting the vaccinations so important to their good health.

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John C. Christenson, M.D., is the Director of the Ryan White Center for Pediatric Infectious Disease at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.