By: Dr. Bailey Alford
August is National Immunization Awareness Month and a great time to remember
and recognize the importance of vaccines during childhood. As a general
pediatrician, childhood immunizations are a part of my daily practice and one of the
most common topics I discuss with families. Living in the 21 st century, most of us
have never seen the devastation caused by most vaccine-preventable illnesses. This
can make it difficult to truly appreciate the benefit of vaccines but make no mistake,
the times rampant with invasive disease due to polio, tetanus, haemophilus
influenza, and diphtheria are not ones we want to revisit. Vaccines are truly a
marvel of modern medicine. Here are some of the most common vaccine questions
What diseases do vaccines protect against?
The current childhood immunization schedule protects against the following
Diptheria: A bacteria that invades the nose and throat leaving a characteristic
thick gray membrane and if left untreated can spread throughout the body
causing difficulty swallowing, paralysis, and heart failure.
Tetanus: Type of bacteria that causes muscle stiffness and can be deadly if not
Pertussis: A virus that causes the characteristic “whooping cough” that can lead
to respiratory failure in infants requiring hospitalization.
Hepatitis B: This is a virus that causes inflammation and infection of the liver and can
lead to liver damage or liver cancer.Polio: virus that invades the brain and spinal cord and can lead to paralysis
that can be permanent or even cause death.
Pneumococcal disease: Certain bacteria that can cause ear infections, sinus
infections, pneumonia, and meningitis.
Rotavirus: This virus that can lead to severe diarrhea and dehydration.
Measles: virus that causes cough, runny nose, pink eyes, and a characteristic
rash and can lead to pneumonia or a dangerous swelling of the brain.
Mumps: A virus that causes swelling of the salivary glands in the face and
could lead to swelling of the testicles, swelling of the brain, or infection of the
fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).
Rubella: A virus that is very dangerous to pregnant women because if acquired
during pregnancy can be passed to infant and cause miscarriage or severe
birth defects life deafness, poor vision, or heart defects.
Varicella: A virus that causes chickenpox. Although many get only an
annoying itchy rash, some children get more invasive disease that can spread
to the brain and cause swelling or cause a bloodstream infection.
Hepatitis A: A virus that causes inflammation and infection of the liver however
does not usually cause long-term damage.
How is vaccine timing and spacing determined and why
do some vaccines require booster doses?
The current childhood immunization schedule is a group effort supported by the
American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Disease Control, and the Advisory
Committee on Immunization Practices. When developing vaccines, determining at
what age to give them depends on when the body’s immune system is the most
receptive to the vaccine creating the best response and at what age they can be
safely given as determined by years of vigorous research. Some vaccines require
booster doses, meaning the vaccine is given more than once. This is to ensure long-
Are vaccines safe?
This is a big one, and probably the most important. As a mother myself, I understand
that the health and safety of your child is your top priority. This should also be a top
priority of your child’s pediatrician. There is a lot of conflicting information out
there that can invoke fear and uncertainty. Bottom line, vaccines are rigorously
tested for both safety and efficacy. Safety monitoring is an ongoing process that is
conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Vaccines are tested
extensively before being licensed and then are continuously monitored while the
vaccine is in use. Side effects can happen like local site redness, discomfort or fever.
Serious side effects are possible but rare and are reported when they do occur so
the safety of the vaccine can be re-evaluated.
Do vaccines cause autism?
No. Plain and simple. Multiple large-scale, reliable research studies have shown no
relationship between vaccines and autism.
Is it “too much” for an infant’s immune system
to get several vaccines in one visit?
The amount of germs an infant or young child is exposed to daily from others
around them, putting hands and other items in their mouth, or going out into a
public place are more than the antigens they will receive in a set of vaccines.
You are your child’s best advocate. Do your research, use reliable sources, trust
medical expertise and years of scientific research, and let’s strive for a vaccine-
preventable illness-free world.