Sure Shots: Your 18-Month Vaccine Timeline

Vaccines: The Best Option

Still, many parents wonder whether they should delay some vaccinations to prevent what they perceive as an overload. That's dangerous because "children are at the highest risk of contracting these potentially deadly illnesses in their first two years," says Michael J. Smith, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, in Kentucky. And because a child's immune system is not fully mature, a baby infected with whooping cough, say, may require hospitalization for pneumonia (whereas an infected adult might have only a bad cough).

Some parents believe that even if they refuse vaccines, herd immunity will protect their children. The idea here is that if enough people in a community receive immunizations against a disease, there will be less chance of individuals contracting and spreading it. But parents who refuse shots for their kids aren't putting only their own children's health at risk. "Hundreds of thousands of people in this country are either too young to be fully immunized or can't be vaccinated because of a medical condition, and they depend for protection on those who can get vaccinated," Dr. Offit says. If enough parents opt out, then herd immunity breaks down, he says.

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