Why We Still Vaccinate
Though they're unusual in the United States, infections like pertussis, mumps, measles, and even polio and diphtheria are still commonplace in many areas around the globe. "These infections can be just one plane ride away, which is why we have to continue to vaccinate," explains Michael Pichichero, MD, professor of microbiology/ immunology, pediatrics, and medicine at the University of Rochester, in New York State. Even if you're a stay-at-home kind of family, your child can catch a contagious disease from a neighbor, a friend, or a complete stranger who sneezes as she walks by you in the grocery store. So if you were wondering why your baby is scheduled to be immunized for a whopping 14 diseases in her first year of life, think about this: The reason these ailments sound so outdated is because of the success of vaccines. Even though outbreaks do occur in the U.S., there's been a dramatic decrease in the incidence of preventable diseases thanks to the increasing number of inoculations. And study after study has shown that the vaccines your children receive are safe. We've put together a guide to keep you -- and your baby -- up to speed on her shots.
Why Your Baby Needs Shots
Infants can be more susceptible than older kids and adults to complications from contagious diseases -- and those complications can be far more severe. Pneumonia and meningitis, which are prevented by the Hib vaccine, can lead to brain damage and death in a child under 1 year.
You may be questioning whether your infant's immune system can handle all the vaccines -- and wondering if it's true that they can cause autism. In fact, according to a study published in Pediatrics, 25 percent of moms and dads surveyed believed that too many inoculations given during the first year would weaken their child's immune system. However, the truth is that infants can respond to multiple vaccines, which play a vital role in helping their immune system avoid diseases, says Walter Orenstein, MD, associate director of the Emory University Vaccine Center, in Atlanta.
How Shots Work
Even infants produce antibodies, substances that fight off unwelcome bacteria and viruses. A vaccine contains antigens, weakened versions or parts of disease-causing germs; these will prompt your baby's immune system to make antibodies. If a child is ever exposed to the actual germ, these antibodies will attack it before it causes the disease. The result is that your baby develops immunity without having to suffer through the illness or its complications, says Dr. Orenstein.
What Shots Babies Get
The array of vaccinations your baby will receive may seem dizzying. Most parents are unaware of what PCV even stands for, let alone when or why it's given. And your baby needs several doses of certain vaccines in order to be fully immunized, which is why there are so many shots. Here's a look at what's on the schedule.
- Hepatitis B protects against a serious liver disease that's spread through contact with the blood of an infected person.
- DTaP is a combined vaccine for diphtheria (a bacterial respiratory disease), tetanus (a nervous-system disease also known as lockjaw), and pertussis (whooping cough).
- PCV (Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) protects against pneumococcal pneumonia, blood poisoning, and meningitis.
- Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b conjugate) protects against a severe bacterial infection whose complications include sepsis, meningitis, pneumonia, skin infections, and arthritis.
- IPV (Inactivated poliovirus) protects against the once-widespread disease that can lead to paralysis.
- Rotavirus protects infants from getting the most common cause of severe childhood diarrhea, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance worldwide.
- Influenza helps prevent your child from getting the flu, which is particularly dangerous for babies and can lead to ear and sinus infections, severe dehydration, pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, and even death.
- MMR is the combination vaccine that protects against measles (a virus that can lead to pneumonia, seizures, and brain damage), mumps (a virus that can cause deafness and meningitis), and rubella (also called German measles, a virus that can cause birth defects if a pregnant woman contracts it).
- Varicella protects against chickenpox, which, though usually mild, can cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
- Hepatitis A protects against another serious liver disease.
Combination vaccines: You can limit the number of jabs your baby receives by requesting combination vaccines, which protect your child against multiple diseases with a single shot. "Only 50 percent of pediatricians in private practices are now using combination vaccines, so parents need to ask for them," says Dr. Pichichero. Options include DTaP/Hib, Hepatitis B/Hib, MMR/Varicella, and the five-in-one combo of DTaP, Hep B, and polio.
Originally published in the July 2008 issue of Parents magazine.
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