National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) is an annual observance held in August to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. The designation encourages people to make sure they are up to date on the vaccines recommended for them. Joe Perno, M.D., medical staff affairs officer at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, explains the importance of vaccinations and answers parents’ commonly asked questions.
Children receive many vaccines. Are we overwhelming the child’s immune system with too many?
We are currently vaccinating against 14 diseases. However, due to better development of the vaccines the children are getting less of a stress on their immune system than they did in the past. The newest regimen of vaccines is a tiny challenge for our immune system.
Shouldn’t we be spacing out the vaccines?
There is no proof that spacing out the vaccinations is safer or better for the child. The current vaccine schedule was developed by the CDC based upon scientific research. Pediatricians and parents are slowing the vaccine schedule down without basing it on any scientific fact. These delays leave the child at risk for disease.
Some parents complain that three shots in one day are stressful to the child. However, studies have shown that the initial shot is the most stressful. Therefore, one shot monthly for three months is a greater stress to the child than three shots on one day.
Isn’t it just better to have the disease than be vaccinated?
Many people do not realize how dangerous the vaccine preventable diseases can be to both children and adults. However, they can be debilitating and deadly diseases. Vaccines have changed the way we practice medicine. Children who show up in the Emergency Center with fever and no immunizations require a very different workup than a child who is fully immunized.
Due to the current vaccines, most people do not recall measles, mumps or whooping cough. However, we have seen large scale outbreaks of whooping cough and measles in this country. Unvaccinated children are at risk for these deadly diseases and they put others at risk too. For example, infants who have not reached the appropriate vaccine age and those with depressed immune systems (i.e. cancer treatment patients).
Should parents be concerned about the side effects from vaccines?
Vaccines are tested in more children over time than any other drug in medicine. It is very difficult to get new vaccines approved by the FDA. Side effects are closely monitored and reported. When concerns, which are based in scientific fact, arise about a particular vaccine, the vaccine is removed from the schedule and re-worked. Most “side effects” associated with vaccines are more coincidental events that would have occurred with or without the vaccine. These are included in the side effect profile to educate doctors and the public.
Vaccines are not just for children anymore. Do adults need immunizations also?
College age children should be boostered before going off to school. Adults need booster shots. Currently, we are recommending whooping cough (pertussis) immunization for health care workers, pregnant mothers and any close contacts of newborns. Of course, everyone needs a flu shot each year.
Currently, we have declining vaccine rates. For example, in Pinellas County only 75 percent of children under 2 are immunized. A task force has been formed to increase these rates. It is a great time to get children and adults caught up on necessary immunizations.
For more information, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niam.html
This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.