Health Break | Published April 18, 2005 | Written by Susan Chase, MS, RNC, IBCLC, ICCE, women and children's services, Mount Nittany Medical Center

Don’t Take Immunizations For Granted

There are many things parents want to give their children, but good health is perhaps the greatest gift. Immunization is one of the most important ways parents can protect their children’s health.

This week, April 24-30, is National Infant Immunization Week. The focus is on children under age 2, because infants and young children are at greater risk for getting infectious diseases.

As a parent or caregiver, you are responsible for having your child vaccinated. We can now protect children from more vaccine-preventable diseases than ever before. But because we can prevent more diseases, parents are often not aware what it takes to fully protect a child.

History of vaccinations

Some parents think that diseases like measles, polio, rubella and whooping cough no longer exist. Many parents have never seen anyone with measles and think of it as a mild illness.

But, measles killed 3,000 children in the United States every year before the immunization was on hand. When parents stopped immunizing their children, there was a measles outbreak. Over 11,000 people were in hospitals and 125 died. This is a true tragedy, since it could have been avoided if these children had been immunized against measles.

What to expect

A child will receive a total of about 16 to 20 vaccinations by age 2. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act requires that all healthcare providers give copies of Vaccine Information Statements before giving each dose of the vaccine.

The first vaccine (hepatitis B) is often given in the hospital. Infants generally receive vaccines at 2, 4 and 6 months; 9, 12, 15 and 18 months, and at 2 years of age. Children also get booster shots for the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DPT) and poliovirus vaccines before entering school. Other immunizations may be suggested by your doctor depending on where you live.

Risks of not immunizing your child

Immunizations are extremely safe thanks to medical research and testing. But, like any medicine, immunizations can cause side effects.
However, a choice not to immunize also involves risks. The child and others who come into contact with him or her are at risk of contracting dangerous or deadly diseases, such as measles or whooping cough. By not immunizing your child, you are increasing the chance that your child and others in your family and community will also get the disease.

Unvaccinated children are also at risk for meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain), bloodstream infections caused by some types of bacteria, deafness caused by mumps, and liver cancer caused by hepatitis B virus. Children are far more likely to be harmed by serious infectious diseases than by immunization.

When to not give or delay immunizations

Though immunizations are an excellent way to prevent disease, some people should not get certain vaccines or should wait to get them. For instance, children with compromised immune systems, as occurs with cancer patients, often need to wait. Also, if a person has had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, she or he should not receive another dose. However, a person with a mild, common illness, such as a cold with a low-grade fever, does not have to wait. Ask your doctor for more information.

Finding information

Parents with concerns about immunization risks and benefits should talk to their doctor. Also, check these Web sites:

The local State Health Center provides immunizations to people who have no insurance for immunizations and are not on medical assistance. Call 814.865.0932 to see if your child qualifies.

Though immunizations can seem very complicated, the slogan of National Infant Immunization Week is very simple: “Love them. Protect them. Immunize them. Vaccines: An Act of Love.”

Susan Chase is a staff nurse on the Mother-Baby Unit at Mount Nittany Medical Center.