Getting vaccinated is never fun, but those few quick seconds of discomfort are the best way to protect your body from some really devastating diseases.
Vaccines, from mumps and measles to polio and smallpox, have been shown to reduce and in some cases eliminate cases of these diseases.
However, in recent years, some parents have opted not to get vaccinated due to concerns about side effects and long-term complications. Sanford Health pediatricians answer common parenting questions about vaccinations.
Are vaccinations safe?
Yes, says Cristina da Silva, MD, a pediatrician at Sanford Children’s Campus in Bismarck, North Dakota.
“All vaccinations – or vaccines – are fully tested for safety,” Dr. da Silva said. “The approval process used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is rigorous.”
She tells parents that while the decision to vaccinate is 100% up to them, the risks associated with immunization are very minimal.
As with any injection, the patient may feel some pain or irritation in the area where the injection was given. There are a few cases of fever, but other than that, there are rarely more serious problems.
How do immunizations work?
Immunization works by teaching a child’s body to defend itself against certain diseases, explains Dr. da Silva.
Some vaccines contain a dead or weakened form of the virus or bacteria. Others, such as the COVID-19 vaccine, provide instructions on how to create a protein that triggers an immune response.
Get your COVID/flu vaccine: Find a Sanford Health clinic near you
During illness, the body produces antibodies designed to fight the illness. Immunization teaches the immune system how to make these antibodies so your child doesn’t get sick.
Keep in mind that many vaccines need to be re-vaccinated in order to be most effective. Just one dose is usually not enough to produce the amount of antibodies needed to develop the best immune response. Depending on the vaccine, you may need one or two vaccines as a child and then another as an adult for optimal immunity.
What about diseases that are rare in the US? Is immunization still important for those?
According to Dr. da Silva, these diseases are rare due to immunization. Immunization has reduced the incidence of infections such as polio, whooping cough, diphtheria, measles and rubella.
Some illnesses have made a recent resurgence. Diseases such as measles are still common in other parts of the world. Travelers can bring these diseases back to this country. Without high immunization rates, reintroduced diseases can spread rapidly.
In 2019, more than 1,200 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 31 states. This is the highest number of cases reported in the US since 1992, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The department added that most of the cases were among people who had not been vaccinated against measles. Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in US communities where groups of people are not vaccinated.
Do vaccines cause harmful side effects?
“The risk of serious side effects or death from immunization is so small that it is difficult to document,” said Dr. da Silva. “On the contrary, there is a much higher risk of serious illness from diseases that can be prevented by immunization.”
Some children experience minor side effects from the immunization. These may include low-grade fever, fussiness, and soreness or swelling at the injection site. It is very rare for a serious reaction to occur, according to Dr. da Silva.
“Allegations that vaccines cause autism or other diseases have been completely debunked,” she added. “After a thorough review in 2004, the Institute of Medicine rejected the idea that vaccinations have anything to do with autism.”
Should I give my child all the recommended vaccinations?
According to Dr. da Silva, many studies have been conducted within the CDC-recommended schedule. Staying on schedule means that your child will be vaccinated at the best possible time to protect them from infectious diseases.
“Choosing which vaccines to give a child is very risky,” she said. “When too many children miss immunizations, the immunization rate in a society drops. Serious preventable diseases could become more common.”
In other words, not vaccinating your child puts not only him or her at risk, but everyone they meet. Sanford Health pediatricians encourage parents to discuss any concerns they may have about vaccines with their doctor so they can make an informed decision about their child’s health care.
How can my children get the vaccines they need?
It’s easy, says Dr. DaSilva. Keep regular wellness visits with your pediatrician. Pediatricians ensure that the immunization status of children is up to date and provide the necessary routine medical care.
Call your child’s primary care physician to schedule a visit to the wellness center.
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