The clustering of children in the school setting increases the chances of spreading an infectious disease. Vaccines are the first and best line of defense to protect infants and children against the most devastating childhood illnesses, according to pediatric health experts.
“Immunizing their child is the single best thing parents can do to ensure their child’s health,” says Dr. Renee R. Jenkins, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “The benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. I firmly believe in the importance and safety of vaccines, as a doctor, as a parent and as a new grandparent.”
While many young parents today have never witnessed a case of polio, measles or rubella, these diseases still circulate in the world and are just a plane ride away. They can easily return to the U.S. if immunization rates were to fall.
Indeed, outbreaks of measles and whooping cough in the U.S. in recent years show how quickly and easily these diseases can spread among unvaccinated populations.
According to the experts at the AAP, the current immunization schedule provides the best protection. Before they start school, children need to be immunized against such illnesses as measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, polio, hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus, meningitis, whooping cough and others.
To obtain a copy of the current immunization schedule, visit the Web sites of the AAP (www.aap.org) or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.goc). Be sure to check with your pediatrician to evaluate each child individually before each vaccine is due.
Experts in infectious diseases designed this vaccine schedule to protect infants, children and adolescents when they are most susceptible to infection by specific diseases. The schedule is designed to deliver vaccines when they will generate the best immune response. Delaying vaccines could leave your child open to infection when he or she is most vulnerable, and may reduce the effectiveness of a vaccine.
However, some parents have expressed concern about giving their children many vaccines in a short period of time.
“Although the number of shots has gone up, the total viral load has gone down. Instead of containing thousands of antigens, a vaccine today contains just a handful. Today’s vaccines are smarter, purer versions of the ones we got as kids,” responds Jenkins who stresses the safety of combination vaccines and their ingredients.
Statistical health data underscore the benefits of childhood vaccines. According to the CDC, before immunizations were implemented over 13,000 people in the U.S. contracted paralytic polio each year. Thousands of children were left in crutches, braces, wheelchairs and iron lungs.
And 9,000 people - mostly children - died of whooping cough in the U.S. yearly. Prior to widespread vaccinations, 6,100 people in the U.S. died of invasive pneumococcal disease each year, with many children developing long-term complications such as deafness or seizures.
“Our children shouldn’t have to risk the devastating complications associated with diseases that were common a generation ago,” says Jenkins.
Parents who have questions about vaccines should talk with their child’s pediatrician. More information about vaccines and childhood illnesses is available at www.aap.org.