Worth a shot

By Published On: October 1st, 2014

When it comes to vaccines, there’s a lot to consider—from […]

When it comes to vaccines, there’s a lot to consider—from easing the ouch to keeping up with that complicated schedule. It’s never easy for a mama to see her babe in pain, but the short-lived sting of inoculations is well worth the protection they offer. To bring you up to speed on the latest information and recommendations, we called up the experts and cracked open the medical journals …

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends vaccinating children against 16 diseases. That means, all new and soon-to-be mamas can expect their little ones to be on the receiving end of approximately 24 injections during their first year. Those very same shots will protect your newborn against 14 of the 16 diseases, including hepatitis B, polio, tetanus, pertussis (also known as whooping cough), measles, mumps and rubella.

Vaccinating your child—and keeping up-to-date on what shots should be given when—has never been more important. The CDC estimates that immunizations given to children between 1994 and 2013 prevented 732,000 deaths. Even so, some parents are choosing not to vaccinate, and epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases are popping up everywhere. In 2012, there were 48,277 cases of whooping cough in the U.S., 20 of which resulted in death. Nearly 10,000 cases were reported as of June 2014, which marks a 24 percent increase compared to the past year.

Measles, caused by a virus so dangerous that exposure to only one virion is all it takes for an infection to take hold, was reported to be eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. However, we are now experiencing outbreaks in 21 states with 593 cases reported as of August 1, 2014.

Community immunity
Most of these sudden reoccurrences can be traced back to communities where large groups of people are unvaccinated. As a result, the herd immunity phenomenon has become compromised. Herd immunity, also called community immunity, exists when the percentage of people vaccinated against a certain disease is so high that those who are too young, ill or immuno-compromised to be vaccinated are still afforded protection by those who are vaccinated.

For example, those who are too old to have been vaccinated against pneumococcal infections have shown a two-thirds reduction in reports of the disease, which has been directly credited to vaccinations in the rest of the population. However, when the percentage of vaccinated individuals drops below the threshold, that population becomes at risk for an outbreak.

While it might be a personal decision not to vaccinate your child, that decision could put another’s child at risk. Such is the case with whooping cough, as most of the deaths reported in 2012 were among infants too young to be vaccinated. Moreover, those who aren’t vaccinated and were, at a young age, protected from the disease indirectly through community immunity remain at risk for infection as adults.

Shot record
So how many shots will you and your wee one have to power through? According to Joseph R. Kelly, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in Fort Drum, New York, babies typically receive two to four injections at each visit between 2 months and 1 year of age. Those might be single immunizations, or a shot could cover multiple diseases in one prick.

Many parents are concerned about the sheer number of vaccinations given at a single doctor visit; add in the follow-ups, and it’s a lot of shots. However, multiple doses of the same vaccines are necessary to build immunity. And there’s no evidence that the vaccination schedule recommended by the CDC overwhelms a child’s immune system.

Consider this: The average adult human comprises 60-90 trillion cells, and the microorganisms living on and within us outnumber our cells 10 to 1. From the moment a child is born, they are exposed to millions of microorganisms. In other words, a baby’s immune system comes primed and ready to react.

2014VaccScheduleKeeping watch
Vaccinations have come a long way since the 1700s. Still, there can be side effects and, in rare cases, allergic reactions. The most common side effects to look out for are redness and tenderness at the site of injection. Infants might also experience fussiness and a low-grade fever. However, Kelly says, a fever lasting more than two days should be checked out by your health care provider.

You should also pay doc a visit if you notice any swelling that doesn’t respond to cool compresses or if there are any signs of difficulty breathing. (Swelling of the airways is a sure sign of an allergic reaction.) In some cases, a reaction is more likely if the vaccination is given later than the recommended age. For example, according to the World Health Organization, children are more likely to have a reaction to the second dose of MMR if it’s given between ages 10 and 12—as opposed to the suggested ages of 4 to 6.

Kelly says that children who have compromised immune systems, such as those born with a congenital defect or those with a suppressed immune system, should not receive vaccinations.

Additionally if a child has ever had a severe reaction to a vaccine, your doctor might advise against administering additional doses. Some vaccinations might be delayed if the child is moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled.

Cost versus value
Between 1989 and 1991 there were 55,000 cases of measles, largely due to uninsured children not being vaccinated at 12-15 months old; this prompted the formation of the Vaccines for Children program (VFC) in 1994.

VFC provides vaccinations for children who are uninsured, underinsured, Medicaid-eligible or American Indian/ Alaskan Native. Most pediatricians in the U.S., as well as some general and family practitioners, are VFC enrolled providers. In combination with the Affordable Care Act, vaccines for eligible children are available at no cost.

This year is the 20th anniversary for the VFC program, and the CDC estimates that—in addition to the 732,000 lives saved—it has prevented 21 million hospitalizations, which equates to a societal savings of $1.38 trillion.

But money aside, the value of the vaccinations is in the joy of living a longer and more healthful life. So, the question we should really be asking ourselves is: How can we afford not to vaccinate our little ones?

By Bethany Reid Roahrig, PhD

Image: iStock.com