Every year in August, National Immunization Awareness Month is recognized. Vaccines help protect your child and others from serious and life-threatening illnesses. Many people have concerns and questions about vaccines. Here are a few that may help you understand the importance of immunizations.
What are vaccines? Vaccines are made from a small amount of weakened or killed viruses and bacteria. When a vaccine is given, most often by an injection (shot), the body makes antibodies (proteins in the body that help fight diseases) to build up the immune system. This is called immunization.
Even though some diseases (like polio and diphtheria) are rare in the United States, we need to continue to immunize to continue the protection that has taken many years to build. Even if only a few cases of disease occur, if we take away the protection given by immunizations, more and more people will be infected and will spread disease to others. Immunizations are one of the best ways to put an end to the serious effects of certain diseases.
Are vaccines safe?
Yes! Vaccines are very safe. Millions of children and adults are safely immunized each year. The most common side effects of an immunization are typically very mild, such as pain or swelling at the injection site.
When should you immunize your child? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published recommendations for both children and adults on their website in easy to read schedules: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/easy-to-read/index.html. The schedule for infants and children is designed to protect them early in life when they are most vulnerable and before they are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases. Your child begins their immunizations at birth and should receive a series of recommended immunizations through their early years. Your health care provider can advise you on what immunizations your child needs and when they need them. Most childcare facilities and schools will not allow children to attend unless they are up-to-date on their immunizations. Be sure to check with them on what their immunization requirements are.
Why are so many doses needed for some of the vaccines? Getting every recommended dose of each vaccine gives your child the best protection possible against disease. Some vaccines need more than one dose to build high enough immunity to prevent disease as well as boost the immunity that can actually fade over time. Every dose of a vaccine is important because they all protect against infectious diseases that are threats today and can be especially serious for infants and very young children.
To learn more about immunizations for both children and adults, contact the CDC Info Center at www.cdc.gov/vaccines or 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), the Arkansas Department of Health Immunizations Program at 501-661-2169 or your Local Health Unit in your community.