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Immunizations

Importance of immunizations

Immunization is key to preventing disease among the general population. Vaccines benefit both the people who receive them and the vulnerable, unvaccinated people around them because the infection can no longer spread through the community if most people are immunized. In addition, immunizations reduce the number of deaths and disability from infections, such as measles, whooping cough, and chickenpox.

Although children receive the majority of the vaccinations, adults also need to be sure they are already immune to certain infections and/or stay up-to-date on certain vaccinations, including varicella, seasonal influenza, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, mumps, rubella, zoster, human papillomavirus, pneumococcal (polysaccharide), hepatitis A and B, flu, and meningococcal disease. Childhood illnesses such as mumps, measles, and chickenpox can cause serious complications in adults. 

About guidelines for childhood immunizations

Many childhood diseases can now be prevented by following recommended guidelines for vaccinations:

  • Meningococcal vaccine (MCV4). To protect against meningococcal disease

  • Hep B. To protect against hepatitis B

  • Inactivated poliovirus (IPV). To protect against polio

  • DTaP. To protect against diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), and pertussis (whooping cough)

  • Hib vaccine. To protect against Haemophilus influenzae type b (which may cause meningitis)

  • MMR. To protect against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles)

  • Pneumococcal vaccine. PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) to protect against pneumonia, infection in the blood, and meningitis. Another form of pneumococcal vaccine, PPSV (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine) is used in special conditions and in adults.

  • Varicella. To protect against chickenpox

  • Rotavirus. To prevent infections caused by rotavirus (RotaTeq or Rotarix)

  • Hep A. To protect against hepatitis A

  • HPV. To protect from human papillomavirus, which is linked to cervical cancer and other cancers

  • Seasonal influenza. To protect against different flu viruses

A child's first vaccination is given at birth. Immunizations are scheduled throughout childhood, with many beginning within the first few months of life. By following a regular schedule, and making sure a child is immunized at the right time, you're ensuring the best defense against dangerous childhood diseases.

Reactions to immunizations

As with any medication, vaccinations may cause reactions, usually in the form of a sore arm or low-grade fever. Although serious reactions are rare, they can happen, and your child's doctor or nurse may discuss these with you before giving the shots. However, the risks for contracting the diseases the immunizations provide protection from are higher than the risks for having a reaction to the vaccine.

Treating mild reactions to immunizations in children:

  • Fussiness, fever, and pain. Children may need extra love and care after getting immunized. The shots that keep them from getting serious diseases can also cause discomfort for a while. Children may experience fussiness, fever, and pain at the immunization site after they have been immunized.

  • Fever. DO NOT GIVE ASPIRIN. You may want to give your child acetaminophen, a medication that helps to reduce pain and fever, as directed by your child's doctor:

    • Give your child plenty to drink.

    • Clothe your child lightly. Do not cover or wrap your child tightly.

    • Sponge your child in a few inches of lukewarm (not cold) bath water.

  • Swelling or pain. DO NOT GIVE ASPIRIN. You may want to give your child acetaminophen, a medication that helps to reduce pain and fever, as directed by your child's doctor.
    A clean, cool washcloth may be applied over the sore area as needed for comfort.

Aspirin and the risk of Reye's syndrome in children

Aspirin shouldn't be given to children or teenagers because of the risk for Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease. Therefore, pediatricians and other health care providers recommend that aspirin not be used to treat any fever in children.

If more serious symptoms occur, call your child's doctor right away. These symptoms may include:

  • A large area of redness and swelling around the area where the injection was given. The skin area may be warm to touch and very tender. There may also be red streaks coming from the initial site of the injection.

  • A high fever

  • The child is pale or limp

  • The child has been crying incessantly for several minutes

  • The child has a strange cry that is not normal (a high-pitched cry)

  • The child's body is shaking, twitching, or jerking