Immunization 101: The vaccines your child needs to stay healthy

August is National Immunization Awareness Month and we’re reminding parents about the immunizations that their kids need to stay healthy – many of which are required by schools as children head back to the classroom.

Vaccines prevent more than 2.5 million deaths each year and protect not only those receiving the vaccine, but also everyone around them, particularly those with weakened immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

With so much information out there about immunizations, we asked a medical expert answer some of the most common questions about vaccinations.

What do immunizations do?

Vaccines work by preparing a person’s body to fight illness. Immunizations contain either a dead or weakened ingredient  that causes a particular disease. The body fights the weakened disease by making antibodies that recognize specific parts of that ingredient, so that if someone is ever exposed to the actual disease the antibodies are already in place and the body knows how to fight it.

Will the immunization give someone the very disease it’s supposed to prevent?

It’s impossible to get the disease from any vaccine made using an ingredient/part of the bacteria or virus. Only immunizations made from weakened viruses (like chickenpox for example) could possibly make a person develop a mild form of the disease, but that infection is almost always much less severe than the illness that occurs when infected with the disease-causing virus itself.

The risk of disease from vaccination is very small. However, for kids with a  severe (life-threatening) allergy to any component of a vaccine or weakened immune systems, these vaccines may cause problems, so be sure to consult with your doctor to find out whether or not vaccines are advisable.

Why do kids need to be immunized?

Children need immunizations to protect them from dangerous childhood diseases that can have serious complications and even kill children.

My kid is afraid of needles – how do I help them get over that?

It can be tough to watch your child get a shot, even when you know the short-term pain is nothing compared to suffering through a disease. Make sure you and your child ( the latter  if applicable—because some will  be newborns/infants) knows what the shot is for and that it will protect them, but you be the judge for how far in advance you want to tell a child (that can understand) because  they may be worrying about the shot all week. Sometimes even a small incentive after the shot can do wonders – consider a sticker or picture Band-Aids with your child’s favorite cartoon character.

Why should I have my child immunized if all the other kids in school are immunized?

Your child is exposed to people other than those in school, including people traveling from other countries that don’t have the same health standards we have in the United States. Also, if one person thinks about skipping vaccines, odds are that others are thinking the same thing. Each child who isn’t immunized is a risk for getting highly contagious diseases and provides a set up for one more chance to spread.

What’s the rush to immunize? Can’t I wait?

Children under five are particularly susceptible to disease as their immune systems are still developing. By immunizing on time (by age 2), you can protect your child from dangerous diseases and protect others at school or at daycare.

Does giving a child multiple vaccinations for different diseases at the same time overload the immune system?

Studies have shown that the recommended vaccines are as effective in combination as they are individually, and that such combinations carry no greater risk for adverse side effects. There are practical benefits to giving a child multiple vaccines at once. Doing so helps immunize children as early as possible, and it can save on the number of individual shots, it saves parents time and money on office visits.

What would happen if we stopped immunizations?

In the U.S., vaccines have reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that once routinely killed or harmed many infants, children, adolescents and adults. However, the viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable disease and death still exist and can be passed on to people who are not protected by vaccines. Vaccine-preventable diseases have many social and economic costs: sick children miss school and can cause parents to lose time from work. These diseases also can result in protracted illness, doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, and even premature deaths.

For example, Polio is a disease caused by a virus that used to be very common in the United States, paralyzing and killing thousands of people every year. Today, polio has been nearly eliminated from the United States but is still common in other parts of the world. It would only take one person infected with the polio virus coming from another country to bring the disease back here if we were not protected by the vaccine.

What are the possible side-effects from vaccines?

Side effects can occur without any medicine, including vaccines. Depending on the vaccine, these can include: slight fever, rash, or soreness at the site of injection. Slight discomfort is normal and should not be a cause for alarm but be mindful that children can experience severe (life-threatening) allergy to any component of vaccines. It is important that you speak with your health care provided who can give you additional information.

Do immunizations cause autism?

Numerous scientific studies have found no link between vaccines and autism (a developmental disorder that’s characterized by mild to severe impairment of communication and social interaction skills) and in 2004, a long-disputed 1998 study that suggested a possible link between autism and the MMR vaccine was retracted. Before the retraction, not only had other studies found no link, but the controversial 1998 study was rejected by all major health organizations, including the AAP, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Additionally, a 2004 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that thimerosal (an organic mercury compound that’s been used as a preservative in vaccines since the 1930s) showed no evidence of risk for autism. Still, some parents have opted not to have their children immunized, putting them at great risk of contracting deadly diseases.

I read something online that said immunizations are bad for my kids. How do I know if it’s true?

First, consider the source of information:

  • Is this based on a scientific study?
  • Who backed the study?
  • When did the study take place?
  • Has the study been accepted by renowned health organizations like the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO)?
  • If the information seems credible, discuss with your doctor or health professional the information what you found. Health information found on online should supplement rather than replace the information or advice given by your doctor.



Photo credit: Getty Images

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