Childhood Immunization

Immunization is among the top medical achievements of this past century.  Major inroads have been made against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases.  These include: measles, mumps, polio, rubella (German measles), pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria, tetanus, haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib disease), hepatitis B, and varicella (chickenpox).  Smallpox has been eliminated worldwide; and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), since 1991, polio, caused by a wild type virus, has been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere

However, our neighbors around the world don’t share our success and because these diseases linger in other locales, their reintroduction into the U.S. is just a plane ride away.  Parents can’t afford to become complacent or apathetic about seeing that their children receive the vaccines that are available.  One example is chickenpox vaccine, which has been on the market since May 1995, and has been recommended by the CDC to be included in a child’s vaccination schedule since 1996.  The low response to the use of this relatively new vaccine, as low as 25% in some parts of the country, has seen chickenpox…often treated by the public as just one of those diseases kids get… remain the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in the U.S.

Antibodies passed on by mothers provide their newborn babies with immunity to many of the childhood diseases for about a year.  Following this period of natural immunity, vaccines provide a means for the body to create more antibodies to help ward off particular diseases, some which could result in permanent disability or even death.  Even with the very low risk of side effects, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any risks involved. 

To minimize the risk of adverse reactions to vaccines the FDA licenses all vaccine manufacturing facilities and vaccine products.  Manufacturers test each vaccine lot for safety.  The FDA reviews the tests results and may choose to do additional tests of their own.  If adverse experiences with a vaccine lot come to the attention of the FDA through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), FDA has the legal authority to immediately recall that lot.  FDA regularly inspects the vaccine manufacturers’ facilities to see that they comply with good manufacturing practices and testing regulations.

Most reactions to vaccines are mild and short-lived.  They include fever, irritableness, mild pain and inflammation around the injection site.  Applying an ice cube in a washcloth to the affect area can often soothe the pain and redness.  If your child seems to be suffering a severe and persistent reaction, you should contact your physician.

With the exception of smallpox, many childhood diseases have not gone away and could easily rear their ugly heads in a population that is negligent or not receptive to the benefits of vaccination.  Further, widespread vaccination protects others who may be allergic to certain vaccines or who, because of religious beliefs, can’t or choose not to be vaccinated.  It is important to maintain a vaccination health record.  This is helpful to your physician, especially in situations where several physicians might be involved, and also helps to keep you on schedule.

Many inaccurate myths exist about vaccination.  It is important to get the facts.  If you have questions, consult your physician or health worker.  If you have access to the Internet you can find a wealth of information…you might start with the Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov/nip.

May 2001

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