A Parent’s Guide to Vaccine-Preventable Diseases for Children

There are many ways to protect children as they grow. But when it comes to protection against certain childhood diseases, the medical community strongly recommends vaccinations.

Getting your child vaccinated is important. And you probably have questions about what’s ahead for you and your baby.

What is a vaccine made of?
How do the vaccines work?
Why are vaccines given to babies?
Are vaccines safe?
What about combination vaccines?
Can vaccines cause autism or multiple sclerosis?
What about thimerosal and mercury poisoning?
Who approves and recommends vaccines?
What side effects might my child experience?
Can vaccines overload a child's immune system?
If all the other children in my community are vaccinated, why should my child be vaccinated?
Which childhood vaccinations are still considered standard?

What is a vaccine made of?

Most vaccines contain purified fragments taken from killed bacteria or viruses. Some vaccines contain live viruses, but in a very weak form that does not cause disease.

How do the vaccines work?

Vaccines “teach” the immune system how to recognize and fight bacteria and viruses before an infection happens. By giving the body a small “sample” of the germ, it can develop resistance without actually getting the disease.

Why are vaccines given to babies?

Certain vaccine-preventable diseases can infect babies within the first few months of life. Vaccinating small children helps provide them with protection when they need it.

Thanks to vaccines given to babies, many diseases that once killed millions of people in the United States have not been seen for many years. But in some parts of the world where vaccines are not readily available, diseases we no longer worry about in the United States continue to destroy the lives of children every single day.

Are vaccines safe?

No medication is 100% safe. However, all vaccines that have been approved for use in the United States have been thoroughly tested for safety, and serious side effects are very rare. Meanwhile, the benefits of vaccination are tremendous! Before vaccines were developed, polio paralyzed 10,000 children, rubella (German measles) cause birth defects in 20,000 newborns, and pertussis (whopping cough) killed 8000 children yearly. But thanks to the confidence that both physicians and parents have in these vaccines, today millions of children are protected from serious, life-threatening diseases.

What about combination vaccines?

The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) is an example of 3 different vaccinations given in 1 shot, which is called a combination vaccine. Combination vaccines permit protection against more diseases earlier in life. They also decrease the total number of shots a baby needs to have.

Can vaccinations cause autism or multiple sclerosis?

Studies have demonstrated that there is currently no relationship, confirmed or demonstrated, between vaccinations and autism or multiple sclerosis.

What about thimerosal and mercury poisoning?

Thimerosal is a preservative that was originally put in many vaccinations to stop the growth of bacteria. Some people are concerned that this preservative might expose very young children to relatively large amounts of mercury. However, there is no evidence that thimerosal-containing vaccines have ever caused harm to children receiving them. Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the medical community, and vaccine manufacturers worked together to remove thimerosal as a preservative from routine childhood vaccines.

Who approves and recommends vaccines?

After successful testing in thousands of people, a vaccine is approved (licensed) for use in the United States by the FDA. The vaccine is then recommended for use in specific age groups by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Infectious Disease Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

What side effects might my child experience?

The most typical side effects include a slight fever, drowsiness, and soreness at the injection site. Although extremely rare, vaccines have been known to cause serious side effects. For example, if your child develops a high fever or appears to be in severe pain, seek medical attention immediately.

Can vaccinations overload a child’s immune system?

No. Vaccines only contain tiny amounts of viruses or bacteria compared with the large amounts of germs children come in contact with every day. Therefore, a healthy child’s immune system should have no problem handling vaccinations, even when several vaccinations are given during a single doctor’s visit.

If all of the other children in my community are vaccinated, why should my child be vaccinated?

Even though many children are vaccinated, diseases still exist. And the increase in international travel means that diseases are always a threat. If someone with a serious vaccine-preventable disease enters your community and your child is not vaccinated, he or she is at risk. What’s more, each unvaccinated child is at risk for spreading infection to other unvaccinated children and adults, as well as to persons with weak immune systems. That’s why every child should be vaccinated – for his or her own protection and your peace of mind.

Which childhood vaccinations are considered standard?

Current recommendations call for immunization against 13 vaccine-preventable diseases. Depending on the vaccine, children may receive vaccinations anywhere between birth and 18 years of age. These are the diseases:

To learn more about vaccines, please visit these websites:

www.cdc.gov/nip/vacsafe
www.aap.org
www.immunize.org
www.vaccine.chop.edu
www.immunicationinfo.org



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