Whether they’re going off to preschool for the first time or headed to college, vaccinations are important for your children. Making sure they receive all of them on time is one of the most important things you can do as a parent to ensure their long-term health—as well as the health of their friends, classmates and others in your community.
We checked in with Shannon Bogan, MD, pediatric medicine at Florida Hospital, on things to know. First up, it’s OK if you’re behind on vaccinations.
“Most vaccines are given in a series format,” she says. “The Center for Disease Control has created a specific schedule for practitioners dedicated to providing information about how to resume vaccines on an appropriate timetable. Speak to your pediatrician at your next visit about taking the necessary steps to get back on track.”
Over the past 50 years, vaccines have led to the protection of millions of children against serious diseases. “In some cases, the viruses and bacteria that cause these diseases still exists especially in other parts of the world,” she says. “Your child may be exposed to these diseases if he or she travels to areas where the disease is still present or if they’re exposed to people who travel to the United States from areas where the disease is still present. Many of these contagious diseases can cause serious illness resulting in disability or even death. The benefits far outweigh the risks.”
Here in the US, measles still exists. Although it’s rare, an outbreak occurred in 2015, which had many parents on edge. And remember, it doesn’t just cause a rash and fever. It can lead to serious complications, including childhood blindness and brain damage.
So, how exactly does a vaccination work?
Germs enter your body, and the immune system registers them as antigens. A healthy immune system creates antibodies to fight the foreign substances. Most vaccines contain a small amount of a disease germ that’s actually weak or dead.
But don’t worry, vaccines don’t contain the harmful germs that trigger illness. And, some vaccines don’t contain any germs at all. But, even by having a small dose of the germ in your body, your defense system creates the antibodies needed to destroy the bad germs that could cause disease.
When might a child not receive vaccinations?
While it’s very important for all children to be fully vaccinated, there are some children (such as those who have cancer, infants younger than 1 and children with weak immune systems) who may not be able to receive vaccinations. “They rely on community immunity,” she explains. “When a community is vaccinated against contagious illnesses, the chance of the illness spreading is lowered. Even those who cannot be vaccinated are able to gain protection because the potential spread is limited.”
Vaccines and Autism
Maybe people have concerns about vaccinations being linked to autism, however, Dr. Bogan says: “Vaccines are safe and 90 to 99 percent effective. They’re studied thoroughly and continuously monitored for safety. Research continues to prove there’s no link demonstrated between vaccines and increased risk of autism. Parents should remain informed by their pediatrician about risks and benefits associated with vaccines.”
Vaccines and Side Effects
When it comes to side effects, they’re minimal. “The side effects after receiving vaccinations are generally mild including swelling, bruising or pain at the site of the vaccination,” explains Dr. Bogan. “Also, your child may experience a mild fever or fussiness.”
If you’re thinking many diseases are no longer an issue in the US, such as pertussis, measles and chicken pox, cases of all three have been documented in Orlando. And since we live in a global community, with many visitors coming from across the world to enjoy our theme parks and beaches, that greatly increases our exposure and risk.
Can my child receive a vaccine if he or she is ill?
Even receiving vaccinations during a mild illness is acceptable. In other words, a vaccination won’t worsen the course of the illness.
Last but not least, be sure to keep a vaccination health record to keep your child's vaccinations on schedule. This is helpful for you and your physician, especially if you move or change providers. You don’t want to repeat vaccinations.
At the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather have your child get a vaccination than the disease itself?