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Straight Talk About Vaccines and Kids

They protect against serious -- even deadly -- diseases

SUNDAY, April 13, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Nobody likes to see their baby shriek when the doctor jabs the infant with a needle.

But making sure your child is up-to-date on vaccinations is one of the most important steps you can take to keep your baby healthy, experts say.

Vaccinations provide protection from 11 or more serious and even deadly infectious diseases, from chicken pox to polio to diptheria to measles.

National Infants Immunization Week is April 13 to 19, and public health experts are using the week to underscore the importance of vaccines and clear up any confusion about what children need and when.

While almost all parents say they understand the need for immunizations, a recent survey found vaccines confuse and even frighten many parents.

About 80 percent of 1,000 new parents surveyed didn't know which shots their children needed or what the vaccines protected against. About 55 percent said they became anxious when they saw their children poked, according to the survey by three nurses' groups.

"It may hurt the parents more than the kids," says Diane Peterson, associate director for immunization projects at the Immunization Action Coalition in St Paul, Minn.

The rule of thumb is that vaccinations should begin before the baby leaves the hospital after birth and be completed by about age 2, Peterson says. After that, children periodically get booster shots.

Here's a partial rundown of the latest childhood vaccine schedule from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the full list, click here:

  • Birth:
  • The first hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in the newborn nursery.
  • Two months:
  • The first diptheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP) vaccine, which is usually combined into one shot.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib).
  • The first inactivated polio shot.
  • One year to 18 months:
  • The first measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is usually combined into one shot.
  • Varicella to prevent chicken pox.
  • Major health organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, also encourage children between the ages of 6 and 24 months to get vaccinated against the flu.

    "I believe you'll see stronger recommendations as the years go by to prevent flu in children," says Dr. Natalie Smith, deputy director of the CDC's National Immunization Program in Atlanta. "Very young children and the elderly traditionally do worse."

    Hepatitis A is also a recommended vaccination in some areas of the United States where the disease is prevalent, Smith says. Check with your doctor on this.

    Vaccination rates have been relatively steady in the United States. About 82 percent of children received the diptheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP) vaccine in 2001, according to the CDC.

    About 90 percent received the polio vaccine; 91 percent received measles, mumps, rubella; 93 percent received Hib; 89 percent received hepatitis B; and 76 percent received the varicella vaccine.

    While the compliance rates are high, public health experts say it's as important as ever to get message out about the value of vaccines.

    Many of the diseases for which there are vaccines have seemingly disappeared in the United States, Smith says. When a disease falls out of the public eye, people mistakenly believe it's no longer a risk.

    "In the late 80s, measles went way down and people got complacent and we had a horrible epidemic," Smith says. "In California alone, there were 70 deaths of children from measles."

    There's also a segment of parents who are afraid of the vaccines. Recently, some have speculated that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine could be linked to autism. However, major medical studies have found no such connection, Smith says.

    Still, no vaccine is 100 percent safe or effective. The vaccines can cause, on very rare occasions, serious side effects. And occasionally, a child is vaccinated and is still not protected from the disease.

    "Vaccines are remarkably safe and very effective, and it's important to keep using them," Smith says.

    More information

    Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to read six common misconceptions about vaccinations. Or read this overview of vaccine safety from the CDC.

    SOURCES: Natalie Smith, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Immunization Program, Atlanta; Diane Peterson, associate director, immunization projects, Immunization Action Coalition, St. Paul, Minn.
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