August is National Immunization Awareness Month. This annual observance highlights the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. With the back-to-school season in full swing, it’s important to understand the importance of vaccines for children and check your child’s immunization chart.
Q: What Do Vaccines Do?
A: Vaccines work by preparing the body to fight illness. Each vaccine contains either a dead or a weakened germ (or parts of it) that causes a particular disease.
The body practices fighting the disease by making antibodies that recognize specific parts of that germ. This permanent or long-lasting response means that if someone is exposed to the actual disease, the antibodies are in place and the body knows how to fight the disease, so the person doesn’t get sick. This is called immunity. The process by which vaccines create immunity is known as immunization.
Q: Will the Immune System Be Weaker by Relying on a Vaccine?
A: No, the immune system makes antibodies against a germ, like the chickenpox virus, whether it encounters it naturally or through a vaccine. Being vaccinated against one disease does not weaken the immune response to another disease.
Q: Can a Vaccine Give Someone the Disease It’s Supposed to Prevent?
A: It’s impossible to get the disease from any vaccine made with dead (killed) bacteria or viruses or just part of the bacteria or virus.
Only those vaccines made from weakened (also called attenuated) live viruses — like the chickenpox (varicella) and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines — could possibly make a child develop a mild form of the disease. But it’s almost always much less severe than if a child became infected with the disease-causing virus itself. However, for kids with weak immune systems, such as those being treated for cancer, these vaccines may cause problems.
Q: Can Getting So Many Vaccines at One Time Harm My Baby?
A: Babies have stronger immune systems than you might think, and they can handle far more germs than what they receive from vaccines. In fact, the number of germs in vaccines is just a small percentage of the germs babies’ immune systems deal with every day.
A lot of consideration and research went into creating the immunization schedule most doctors use, and it has been proven safe time and time again. Still, some parents choose to use alternative schedules (spreading or “spacing out” vaccines) because they’re concerned about the number of shots their babies get at each checkup. This is actually more likely to make a baby sick. Studies show that many babies on alternative immunization schedules never get all the vaccines they need.
Q: Why Should My Child Get a Painful Shot if Vaccines Aren’t 100% Effective?
A: Few things in medicine work 100% of the time. But vaccines are one of the most effective weapons we have against disease — they work in 85% to 99% of cases. They greatly reduce your child’s risk of serious illness (particularly when more and more people are vaccinated) and give diseases fewer chances to take hold in a population.
Q: Why Do Healthy Kids Need to Be Immunized?
A: Vaccinations are intended to help keep healthy kids healthy. Because vaccines work by protecting the body before disease strikes, if you wait until your child gets sick, it will be too late for the vaccine to work. The best time to immunize kids is when they’re healthy.
Q: Can Vaccines Cause a Bad Reaction in My Child?
A: The most common reactions to vaccines are minor and include:
- Redness and swelling where the shot was given
- Soreness at the site where the shot was given
In rare cases, vaccines can trigger more serious problems, such as seizures or severe allergic reactions. If your child has a history of allergies to food or medicine, or has had a problem with a vaccine before, let the doctor know before any vaccines are given. Every year, millions of kids are safely vaccinated and very few experience serious side effects.
Q: Should Children Get a COVID-19 Vaccine?
A: Yes, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for adults and all children ages 6 months and older. Booster shots are recommended for everyone ages 5 and older. Everyone who is eligible should get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot as soon as possible.
Participating Pediatric Practices are now offering the COVID-19 vaccine to patients 6 months and older. The vaccine is:
- Available for patients 6 months to less than 5 years in a 2 or 3-dose series
- Available for patients ages 5-11 years as a 2-dose series with a booster after 5 months
- Available for children ages 12 and older as a 2-dose series with a booster after 5 months
To find a practice near you, visit ChildrensAL.org.
You may be thinking, “My child hates shots and pitches a fit even at the word.” There are techniques to make shots easier, such as encouraging your child to take calming breaths or even coughing as the needle goes in. Regardless of the fear, remind them that the shot itself lasts only for a second, but the protection lasts a long, long time after that.
Get your child up-to-date with their vaccines today. Click here to read the recommended immunization schedule.