Vaccines protect children from getting sick from many crippling or deadly illnesses. Thanks to decades of immunization, diseases like measles and polio are mostly a thing of the past in the U.S.
“Despite what you may have heard, vaccines are quite safe for children,” says Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠. “In fact, the risks to your child from catching the diseases vaccines prevent far outweigh any threat posed by the vaccines themselves.”
Why children need vaccines
During their first few weeks of life, babies have some protection against germs that cause disease. The mother passes this natural immunity to her child through the placenta just before birth. Unfortunately, this protection quickly goes away and puts the infant at risk for dozens of potentially dangerous diseases. That's where vaccines come in. Vaccines "train" your child's own immune system to fight off invading viruses and bacteria.
How vaccines work
Vaccines work by exposing your child to a small, safe amount of a weakened or dead virus or bacteria. If your child comes in contact with that particular germ in the future, their immune system will recognize it and rally to fight it off. Kids who have received immunizations will either not become sick at all or get a milder form of the illness. Vaccines are a natural way to protect children from infectious diseases.
When should children get their vaccines?
New vaccines are developed and introduced every couple of years or so. See current vaccination schedules by age groups, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What are the risks from vaccines?
Modern vaccines are safer than ever. But, as with any medication, vaccines do carry a small risk of harm, including severe allergic reactions.
Common reactions to vaccines may include soreness (at the injection site), fussiness or a decreased appetite. More serious reactions such as fatigue, fever and vomiting are rare. Severe reactions including high fever, seizures or allergic reactions are more rare still. Death from immunizations is extremely uncommon. Mild symptoms can be treated at home with an aspirin-free pain reliever. If your child experiences serious or severe reactions, contact your pediatrician.
What about the Autism debate?
Some parents don't let their child get the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine because of autism concerns. But that choice can lead to much more than a bumpy, red rash. Encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, can occur, according to Dr. Kahn. “There is no scientific or medical evidence that supports vaccines causing autism. At least 14 studies have definitely demonstrated no causal link.”
To learn more about vaccinations, please visit our vaccine page.
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