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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Babies and Shots
      Category : Health Centers > Immune System

Babies and Shots

Alternate Names : Infant and Childhood Immunizations, Vaccinations

During their early years, children need many different vaccinations to prevent diseases that used to cause serious health problems. The American College of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regularly update the list of recommended vaccinations for children.

What is the information for this topic?

Some parents are unsure whether to have their babies and children vaccinated. There are several reasons for this. In the US, many parents have grown up in a part of the world where most people have been immunized. Serious illnesses, such as smallpox, measles, and polio, are now quite rare. Because few parents have had these diseases and seen the damage they can do, they may not realize how important it is to prevent them.

Except for smallpox, these illnesses still occur, although much less often than they did before good vaccines were developed. There have been outbreaks of measles among college students and whooping cough epidemics. Cases of diphtheria and tetanus are rare, but often fatal.

Vaccines, like any type of treatment, have benefits and risks. The benefits of being immunized almost always far outweigh the risks. When this is not so, vaccines are given mainly to people at very high risk.

Smallpox is a good case in point. Until about 30 years ago, everyone was given the smallpox vaccine. Because smallpox immunization programs were successful worldwide, the risk of catching smallpox was finally eliminated. Smallpox vaccines are no longer given. Today, the virus exists only in a few research laboratories.

Polio is another example of how immunization practices change as the risk of getting the disease lessens. Since the 1960s, the oral polio vaccine has been recommended for everyone. Before polio vaccines were developed, many people who caught the disease were crippled for life. Polio immunization has almost wiped out polio in Western countries. It is still a risk only in a few developing countries. As a result, new recommendations have been made for the polio vaccine. Babies now routinely get the injectable polio vaccine for the first 2 doses. This killed-virus vaccine has no risk of spreading polio. Babies then get the live oral polio vaccine beginning at 1 year of age, when the risk of getting polio from the vaccine is very low. Public health experts expect that the polio virus will one day be wiped out. When this happens, polio vaccines may no longer be needed.

A great deal of research is being done to develop vaccines for other serious illnesses, such as the:

  • haemophilus or Hib immunization, which protects against a severe form of meningitis
  • pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against pneumonia
  • vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, which protect against two types of viral infections that cause inflammation of the liver
  • Scientists are working hard to develop a vaccine for the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. And, as new vaccines are developed, parents may face recommendations for their children.

    One problem with new vaccines is that no one can predict all of their possible side effects. It also is not known how long their protection will last. For instance, when the measles vaccine was first given, long-lasting protection was expected. But as people who got the measles vaccine as babies reached young adulthood, it became clear that the immunity lessened over the years. Some of these people got the measles when they were in college. Because of this experience, measles booster shots are now recommended for all children entering kindergarten or middle school.

    The only way to be sure a vaccine induces life-long protection is to follow a group of immunized people throughout their lives. Obviously, this is difficult and takes time. That is why unexpected side effects or waning immunity will occur now and then.

    So what should parents do? Are immunizations safe? Keep these points in mind:

  • The illnesses for which vaccines are recommended are generally serious and often life-threatening.
  • Many of these diseases are still around. People who have not been vaccinated risk getting them.
  • Vaccines have some unavoidable side effects. However, these are often minor and affect a small number of people, especially when compared to the real risk of harm from the natural illnesses they prevent.
  • As scientists learn more, many new vaccines will become available. It will be more important than ever to seek reliable information about current and new vaccines in order to make informed decisions about vaccination.

    The current recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices can be reviewed at http://www.cdc.gov/nip/publications/ACIP-list.htm.

    The complete immunization schedule for children can be seen at http://www.cdc.gov/nip/pdf/child-schedule.pdf.

    Author: William M. Boggs, MD
    Reviewer: Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
    Date Reviewed: 03/13/01

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