Staying Well – Vaccinations 101

Colorado mountain town students may already be back in school, but there’s still plenty parents can do to make sure they are healthy and ready to learn throughout the year. Being up-to-date on vaccinations is one important consideration. That’s because vaccines provide an extra level of protection against very serious diseases.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be immunized against 16 diseases. The following vaccines are key for children to receive throughout their development:

    • Chickenpox
    • Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis
    • Haemophilus Influenza b
    • Hepatitis A
    • Hepatitis B
    • Human papillomavirus
    • Influenza
    • Measles, mumps and rubella
    • Meningococcal conjugate
  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine

There are a lot of myths floating around about vaccinations that may lead parents to question their value. As a practicing family medicine physician, I’d like to dispel some of these common misconceptions.

“Vaccines aren’t safe.”

Parents are usually surprised to learn that the safety of vaccines has been much more thoroughly studied than the safety of giving ibuprofen for fever or amoxicillin for an ear infection. Because vaccines are recommended for all children in the U.S., their safety is constantly being evaluated.

One recent example of vaccination study is this Kaiser Permanente study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It found that infants who receive multiple vaccines as part of their routine vaccination schedule are unlikely to be more susceptible to infections not targeted by those vaccines in the two years following vaccination.

“Children only need to be vaccinated so they can go to school.”

The Colorado Board of Health outlines specific vaccination requirements for schools in the state. Many infectious diseases—like chicken pox, the flu and measles—can be easily spread in school settings.

Waiting to vaccinate children until they start school is a missed opportunity. Younger children, especially infants, are more susceptible to infectious diseases. Many diseases, such as pertussis and bacterial meningitis, are more common and serious for infants. That’s why doctors want parents to follow vaccination schedules so that children are protected when they’re at greatest risk.

School districts outline recommended and required vaccinations for students. Certain recommended vaccinations are also required for children to attend school, because the diseases they protect against may be more common or pose a greater risk in that environment. Other vaccines may only be recommended because the diseases they protect against are rare or less contagious in schools.

“There’s no benefit to being vaccinated.”

Side effects are possible from vaccinations, including serious allergic reactions. But serious allergic reactions happen in less than one in one million vaccine doses. More often, children may have redness or swelling where the shot was given that typically goes away within a few days.

The benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. The diseases they prevent are serious and can be life-threatening. Even though the rates of these diseases have gone down dramatically because of vaccination, they are still present in our communities. Remember the news coverage of the measles outbreak at Disneyland? Vaccinated communities help prevent these types of disease outbreaks.

“Vaccines cause autism.”

Dozens of studies related to vaccines and the risk of autism have been completed over the past decade. All of them came to the same conclusion: there is no connection between autism and vaccines.

“Children don’t have to get a flu shot.”

Children should receive the flu shot every year once they reach six months of age. The first time children get a flu shot, their doctor will recommend two doses of the vaccine. That’s because they have not built up enough immunity to protect against the flu virus.

Getting a flu shot each year is important for many reasons. The shot helps prevent the virus and provides greater protection against serious flu-related complications, such as hospitalization and pneumonia.

If you are a parent who is hesitant about vaccines, talk with your pediatrician or family physician. Vaccination protects children and the community around them—their classmates, their grandparents, pregnant women and others who may be vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.

  • Patricia Dietzgen, D.O., is a family medicine physician practicing at the Kaiser Permanente Frisco medical offices