Immunizations Keep Your Children Healthy

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

With school just around the corner, this is a good time to make sure your children have the required immunizations to protect them against common childhood diseases.

Vaccines keep children healthy. In most cases, vaccines cause no side effects, or only mild reactions such as fever or soreness at the injection site. Very rarely, people experience more serious side effects, such as allergic reactions. The benefits of preventing serious diseases far outweigh the mild discomfort of the shot (or shots) and their low risk of side effects.

Vaccinations—one of the great success stories of modern medicine—have greatly reduced serious or deadly diseases. Some diseases, such as smallpox, no longer exist due to vaccines. However, the viruses and bacteria that cause some infectious diseases, such as polio and measles, still exist.

When a large number of children are not immunized in an area, these diseases can spread quickly. You may recall that the Milwaukee area had a measles outbreak in 1989–1990. The disease occurred most often in children under 5 years of age who had never been vaccinated. Another measles outbreak could occur if not enough children are immunized.

Preparing Your Child
Most vaccinations are given when your child is an infant and toddler. You can help reduce the stress of getting a shot for a younger child in a few ways. Tell your child in advance that he or she will be visiting the doctor. While the shot is being given, cuddle and talk to your child to soothe him or her. Bring comforting items, such as your child’s blanket or favorite toy. Reassure your child afterward and, if needed, give him or her acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever or soreness.

Keeping Records
While your doctor keeps vaccination records, you also may find it helpful to keep records of your children’s vaccinations. This is especially helpful if the immunizations are provided by more than one health care facility over the years. This information is needed for school, and you can also pass a complete immunization record along to your children as they become adults. This may be important for such immunizations as tetanus booster shots, which should be repeated every 10 years.

Immunization Schedule
The schedule of recommended immunizations changes every few years as new vaccines are developed or existing vaccine schedules are modified. Recent new or modified vaccines include:

  • The polio vaccine, which became all injectable (a series of four shots) in 2000. In the past, the vaccine was all oral or a combination or oral and injectable.
  • The pneumococcal vaccine (PCV) was introduced a few years ago.
  • A recommendation to give the influenza vaccine to healthy children between 6 and 23 months of age in the fall, before the start of flu season, also is a newer recommendation.

Most immunizations are given before a child is 2 years old. Between the ages 4 and 6, before starting Kindergarten, children are due for two or three booster shots. Children between 11 and 12 also may be due for booster shots.

The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend a specific childhood immunization schedule that includes immunizations for:

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP).
  • Polio (inactivated poliovirus vaccine, or IPV).
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).
  • Chickenpox (varicella).
  • Hepatitis B (Hep B).
  • Hepatitis A (Hep A), in some areas of the United States.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).
  • Pneumococcal vaccine (PCV) for children younger than 2 years of age.
  • Influenza vaccine (encouraged for all healthy children between 6 and 23 months of age, and strongly recommended for children 6 months of age and older with certain medical conditions, such as asthma, sickle cell disease, HIV, diabetes, and heart disease.).

Recommended Guidelines
By Age 2
Vaccination series for the following should be completed by age 2 in all children:

  • Hepatitis B
  • DTaP (Diptheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis)
  • Hib (Haemophilus influenzae)
  • Polio
  • Pneumococcus
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella)
  • Varicella (protects against the virus that causes chicken pox)

A series of hepatitis A vaccines may also be recommended starting at age 2 for children in some high-risk groups or areas. Check with your doctor or local public health department for more information.

Age 4-6
Boosters are recommended between age 4 and 6 for the following vaccines:

  • DTaP
  • Polio
  • MMR

Age 11-12
A visit to the family physician is recommended at age 11 to 12 to review all vaccinations and make sure all necessary vaccines have been given. A series of hepatitis B, MMR, or varicella vaccines may be given if they were missed or incomplete at earlier ages.

In addition, a combination booster for tetanus and diphtheria (Td) should be given if at least five years have passed since the last Td vaccine.

John P. Bonavia, MD, is in practice with fellow family practitioners Alex Tucker, MD, and Geoffrey Scott, MD, at Columbia St. Mary’s River Glen Clinic, 210 W. Capitol Drive. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the clinic at 414-961-2750.

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