The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated this week National Infant Immunization Week (April 25-May 2) to raise awareness of the importance of childhood vaccines. This annual observance highlights the importance of protecting children two years and younger from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Our doctors in Jupiter salute this initiative, especially because the pandemic caused many disruptions in families’ lives, meaning many children missed or delayed wellness checkups and vaccinations.
Importance of vaccines
Even if schools didn’t require vaccinations for all their students, it would still be vital to have your children immunized. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that some 26.8 million hospitalizations, 419 million illnesses, and 936,000 deaths will be avoided among children born in the last 20 years as a result of widespread vaccines.
Here are some facts from the CDC:
- Newborn babies are immune to many diseases because they have antibodies they got from their mothers. However, this immunity dissipates during the first year of life.
- Before vaccines, many children died from diseases that vaccines now prevent, such as whooping cough, measles, and polio. Those same diseases exist today, but because vaccines protect babies, we don’t see them nearly as often.
- Immunizing individual children also helps to protect the health of our community, especially those people who cannot be immunized (children who are too young to be vaccinated, or those who can’t receive certain vaccines for medical reasons), and the small proportion of people who don’t respond to a particular vaccine.
- Vaccine-preventable diseases have a costly impact, resulting in doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, and premature deaths. Sick children can also cause parents to lose time from work.
Myths vs. facts
But aren’t vaccines dangerous? Many social media posts would have you think so. While there are rare instances of adverse reactions to vaccines in some people, on the whole, those small risks far outweigh the risks of contracting the disease the vaccine was designed to prevent.
But many vaccine myths still linger. The most pernicious is that vaccines cause autism. This is 100 percent wrong.
That myth came from a 1998 study published in the British medical journal The Lancet, which linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to the development of autism spectrum disorder. The journal retracted the paper in 2004 and the study’s author was later stripped of his medical license after he’d been shown to have falsified the data in the study.
What about other dangers associated with vaccinations? Scientific American reported on an August 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that studied eight childhood vaccines along with their potential side effects. The study found that vaccines are largely safe and that side effects are usually very rare and usually minor.
Typical side effects—which usually disappear within a day or two—include swelling, redness, low-grade fever, and a small lump at the injection site. Rare negative reactions—occurring about once in a million cases—can include a severe allergic reaction or a seizure. Any medical professional who administers vaccinations is equipped to deal with these unlikely reactions.
Isn’t it better to space out vaccines? Although some parents are concerned about lumping together too many vaccinations, the CDC schedule, which has been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), is compiled based on research detailing when the body’s immune system is best equipped to respond to the vaccine.
In reporting on this research, Scientific American noted: “Children’s immune systems respond to several hundred foreign substances that trigger an immune response every day. In contrast, the complete schedule of recommended childhood vaccinations includes less than 200 antigens.”
What about COVID-19?
There is no approved coronavirus vaccine yet for children under five, although Pfizer and Moderna are working on them. This is unfortunate because a CDC study released last month found that, at the peak of the omicron wave, infants and children under age five were hospitalized at five times the rate that they were when the delta variant predominated. For infants under six months, the rate was about six times higher.
The good news is that there were few deaths among this age group. And more good news is that infants can be protected from COVID-19 if their mothers receive a vaccine during pregnancy. (And this brings up another myth: The fact is that there is no increased risk of miscarriage among women who have been vaccinated, according to the CDC.)
In addition to COVID-19 itself, young children are also at risk of developing a rare but potentially deadly condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MISC), even if their symptoms are mild. They also may be at risk of developing long COVID, or lingering, debilitating symptoms after recovery.
“We need strategies to protect children, and those strategies include . . . protecting children by protecting the people around them and vaccinating their parents and caregivers,” William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Washington Post.
“The bigger picture here is that COVID can be a severe disease, even in young children and even in otherwise healthy children,” he warned.
If you have any questions or concerns about vaccinating yourself or your child, please talk to us. We want to provide you with the latest and best information available.