By Cheryl Simas, Volunteer Blog Contributor
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and if you’re like most parents, keeping your children safe and healthy is a priority. However, you may find there’s lots of conflicting information out there about immunizations and your child’s health.
Let’s look at some of the facts about immunization and how it works.
What is Immunization?
Our body’s immune system is what helps us fight off disease and combat germs that are everywhere in the environment. Your child’s immune system is in place at birth, but like most systems in the body, it needs time to grow and strengthen, and it needs help in order to be better protected against disease and germs.
Vaccines are that help. Vaccines are created from small amounts of plant, animal, or germs. Sometimes vaccines incorporate dead germs or only parts of a germ, also known as antigens. These antigens in vaccines are meant to cause the body to fight off infection. You might think of vaccines as a very weak variation of a disease or germ you might be exposed to in the environment.
When the vaccine is injected, the immune system recognizes the antigens as an attack, and it defends against the invasion. The fight against that weak variation of a disease helps the immune system get stronger and be better prepared to fight a real attack should it happen. After a vaccination, that person can better defend against disease that they might not otherwise be able to fight.
The purpose of immunization is disease prevention, just like wearing your seat belt in the car. You could take the risk of going without that protection, but why not be prepared and try to limit injury when you can?
Some Common Concerns
- Unnecessary exposure to germs: Some parents worry that immunizing their child exposes them to antigens, but children are already exposed to antigens nearly everywhere in their environment. Children are exposed when they touch objects and people and then put their hands in their mouths, or crawl on floors where people or animals have walked or sat – and for older children, going anywhere in public, including school or preschool, present potential exposure to antigens.
- Negative effects to vaccine: While some children may feel ill after receiving a vaccine, severe reaction to immunization is rare. Many children may become fussy or get a low-grade fever, but in most cases, that’s the extent of the potential harm present.
What to watch for are reactions that you see within minutes of a vaccination or symptoms that are severe, such as high fevers, weakness or wheezing. Ask your doctor what the normal reactions are to a vaccine before it is given. That way you’ll be prepared to recognize a response that is abnormal. In all cases, call your doctor if you see a reaction that concerns you.
The Measles Are Back
The World Health Organization (WHO) data shows that “measles increased by around 300% globally in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same time last year, with sizeable rises in all regions of the world.”
While the highest percentage of increase is not in the US, the WHO also found that in Europe, Canada and the United States, “about 1 in 4 children with measles will be hospitalized, while 1 in 15 will suffer from potentially life-threatening complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis.”
Children who receive the measles immunization are better protected, and that also helps limit the spread of disease to others. Everyone is familiar with how a cold can spread between family members or among children in a classroom. One child in a group has a cold and inevitably the cold spreads to them all as they play together, share toys, and cough and sneeze near one another. Similar exchange of infection can happen with diseases like hepatitis, measles, and influenza, so the fewer children immunized, the greater the risk for all children and the larger community.
In 2000, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) declared measles eliminated in the US. However, in recent years with many US parents choosing not to immunize their children, measles has returned and is now appearing at a rate much like that of the late 1980’s. And measles is just one example of how a disease can reemerge if immunization rates drop.
If you have children, talk with your doctor often about immunizations, beginning during pregnancy and then regularly as your child grows.
Here is a list to help you plan immunizations for your child. Some vaccines, such as influenza, should be given each year, while others only require one vaccination. You can use this list when talking with your doctor.
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Human papillomavirus
- Measles, mumps, and rubella
Teens and Immunizations
As children grow, other vaccines are also recommended, such as HPV, which becomes appropriate around age 12. This vaccine, lasting 3 rounds, has been shown to significantly decrease the likelihood of contracting several dangerous conditions, including cervical cancer – and even when only 1 or 2 of the 3 vaccines are received, it is still enough for potential cancer prevention.
Again, talk with your doctor regularly to keep up with the recommendations for growing children. Check with your care provider to see if immunizations are included in services geared to teens and their special needs.
For additional information and for the answers to frequently asked questions visit:
- American Academy of Pediatrics – Immunization Schedules Birth to 18 yrs.
- CDC – Six Things You Need to Know About Vaccines
- CDC – Vaccines and Specific Groups, Conditions or Populations
- CDC – Vaccine Information in Spanish (Información en Español)
- Immunization and Teens
- CDC – Immunization for Adults and Seniors
If you or your child need to be immunized, please call our appointment line today to schedule an appointment with one of our primary care clinicians. (510) 770-8040
Special note: If you’re pregnant or planning on having children, check with your doctor to confirm that you and your spouse are up-to-date with your own vaccines.
To keep in touch with Tri-City Health Center, click here.