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What you need to know about childhood vaccines

  • Many common childhood diseases such as smallpox, measles, mumps and polio can be prevented through immunization.
  • Children need regular vaccinations from 2 months through their teen years.

The topic of vaccines comes up often during my visits with children and their families. As caregivers for your children, it's important to understand childhood vaccinations and at what age they are recommended.

Some childhood diseases that vaccines now help prevent, such as meningitis, pertussis,  mumps, measles and chicken pox, were more common when your parents and grandparents were raising their children. Today, we are once again seeing an increase in these diseases because of lack of immunization.

A series of vaccines is recommended for children to receive before age two; several vaccines are combined. Babies typically receive two to three vaccines during a visit. It can be to see your baby get shots — especially multiple shots at one visit.

Recommended childhood immunizations include:

Tdap vaccine

Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis are very serious bacterial diseases. Diphtheria can lead to breathing problems, heart failure and paralysis; thankfully, it is rare in the U.S. today. Also rare in the U.S. is tetanus, or lockjaw, which can cause painful muscle tightening and stiffness. Sometimes referred to as whooping cough, pertussis can cause severe pneumonia and death, especially in infants.

MMR vaccine

Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) are often grouped together, referred to as MMR, because there is one vaccines for the three illness. Measles can cause pneumonia and permanent neurological damage. Mumps can cause painful gland swelling, neurological damage and, if contracted by males, loss of fertility. Rubella can cause a mild illness with rash. If rubella is contracted by pregnant women, there is a risk of serious birth defects.

Vaccine information statement: MMR vaccine

Polio vaccine

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus in the throat and intestinal tract. Most people who have been infected have no symptoms, but polio can cause paralysis or, in the worst cases, death.

Haemophilus and pneumococcus vaccine

Occurring most often in infants and children younger than five years old, haemophilus is a bacteria that can cause meningitis; severe swelling of the throat that makes breathing hard; joint infections and death. Infants younger than two years old are most at risk of pneumococcus, which starts as an infection in the lungs, ears or blood. Pneumococcal bacteria are the most common cause of pneumonia, but can also cause meningitis and bacteremia, and can be fatal.

Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox and rotavirus vaccine

Before the vaccine was created, contagious chickenpox caused about 4 million people to get sick. Hepatitis A and B are serious illnesses that affect the liver. Rotavirus is most common in infants and young children, causing severe diarrhea and dehydration.

Flu vaccine

You are probably very familiar with common influenza (flu) symptoms -- fever, cough, muscle aches and fatigue. But, did you know that pneumonia, sinus infection and ear infections are frequent complications of influenza? Infants and young children and those with weakened immune systems are at high risk for serious complications if they get the flu.

The seasonal flu shot helps boost immunity to the strains of flu that experts believe will be most prevalent in the coming flu season. On average, a seasonal flu shot reduces your risk of getting the flu by about 50 percent. To prevent seasonal flu, the best time to get a flu shot is in October. However, since flu season typically can run through early spring, you can still get the benefits getting a flu shot later than October.

If you have any questions about vaccines, don't hesitate to ask your provider. It is what we are here for.


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