Childhood Vaccinations: Your Best Bet

Pediatricians today will tell you that childhood immunizations are society’s greatest health care achievement. Even as far back as the early 1700s, founding fathers John Adams and Ben Franklin believed in protecting themselves against diseases such as smallpox. Today, thanks to the protection offered through routine vaccines, diseases like polio and diphtheria have become quite rare, but why do some parents avoid immunizing their children?

One reason was a 1998 British study suggesting that some vaccines may lead to autism. Although the research was later dismissed as false, the damage was done and the number of parents refusing vaccines for their children has grown.

“Parents don’t see diseases anymore because we’re vaccinating so well,” says pediatrician and internist Williams Kerns, M.D., with Meritus Medical Group’s Smithsburg Family Medical Center. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, 17 states fall below the 90-percent mark for vaccinations among children younger than age three—a percentage that could increase the odds of a disease outbreak.

What’s a vaccine?

A vaccine is an agent similar to bacteria and viruses that cause a disease, which stimulate the body’s immune system to help fight the disease. The antibodies in the vaccine remain in the body so that the immune system can recognize and attack the disease in years to come.

The two most common vaccines types are live, attenuated vaccines and inactivated vaccines. Both vaccines stimulate the immune system without causing the natural disease.

How safe are vaccines?

“Our country does more testing and monitoring to watch vaccines than any other nation,” says Dr. Kerns. After a lengthy approval process, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licenses vaccines and the CDC continues to monitor and track immunization efficacy and safety. While side effects are rare, the risk for not vaccinating is much greater.

“I’ve seen babies with pertussis who cough so hard that they bleed from their eyes,” says Dr. Kerns. “Germs are present all the time and the illnesses are waiting; however, we can prevent diseases by being vaccinated.”

Protect yourself and those around you

During a child’s first six years of life, he is protected from 14 life-threatening diseases. Pennsylvania and West Virginia require five vaccination types for entry into public schools and licensed day care centers; Maryland requires seven vaccinations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the CDC support an immunization schedule for children from birth to six years.

“The more people are immune to diseases, the more likely diseases won’t take hold,” explains Dr. Kerns. “If a lot of people don’t get vaccinated, we lose the so-called ‘herd immunity’ and it will be more likely to spread to other people.”

August is back-to-school month and a time to ensure children’s health by making sure their immunizations are up-to-date. If you have questions about childhood vaccinations, talk to your pediatrician or primary care physician. Looking for a pediatrician or family medicine provider? Call Meritus Medical Group at 301-714-4411 to find a provider close to you.