From a young age, your body’s immune system works to prevent you from becoming sick, but sometimes it needs help. Young children are often exposed to dangerous germs and unclean environments, which can cause severe reactions and illness. Not only that, these germs can cause contagious, highly dangerous diseases that have historically affected many people’s lives and even caused disability and death. Fortunately, there is a way to prepare your child’s body to respond to these germs and fight dangerous illnesses: immunization.
How Immunization Works
Usually, if someone catches a disease, their immune system produces antibodies, which are specific kinds of proteins designed to fight that disease. An immunization prepares the body early on to fight germs by introducing antigens, which are inactive or weak versions of germs, into their bodies. The body will recognize these antigens as foreign invaders and create the antibodies necessary to defend against them. These antigens won’t actually cause sickness, but the immune system will remember how to make those antibodies so that if the body is ever exposed to that germ or illness again, it will be able to fight it off quickly. This resistance to disease is called immunity.
Many generations ago, young children were often in danger of serious diseases because of their weak immune systems and because numerous diseases existed that could threaten their lives. When the science of immunization was finally developed, children began to not only survive these diseases, but also completely resist them. Diseases like pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria, polio, and smallpox were all common dangers that could make a child sick or even cause them to die.
However, as a result of immunization science and how quickly it has advanced, many of these diseases have been completely eradicated among children and adults. When the whole or majority of the population becomes immune to disease (known as “herd immunity”), the illness may then cease to exist in dangerous form. In some cases, such as smallpox, these diseases now only exist in labs for the purposes of continued experimentation, testing, and community protection. However, if herd immunity weakened, many eradicated diseases would likely return and continue to wreak havoc on the population of the nation and world. This is why it’s so important for immunization to continue from generation to generation.
Is Immunization Safe?
Immunization is perfectly safe. This form of disease prevention has made great strides since it first began to be used, which has resulted in major advantages. Some of these advantages include: vaccines with little to no side effects, tiny needles that barely hurt, and oral ingestion options. These scientific advances have helped make immunization simpler and easier than it has ever been. Additionally, multiple immunizations can be given through just one shot so your child isn’t as uncomfortable and receives fewer total vaccines without compromising efficacy. Keep in mind, however, that your child will need many different immunizations and boosters (additional doses) in order to be able to attend school, so be prepared to schedule lots of doctor visits between your child’s birth and sixth birthday.
Many concerns still circulate about immunization, usually spread through false information. For instance, some parents are concerned that their child will react poorly to vaccination. The truth is, these days, negative reactions to vaccines are extremely rare, and even if they do occur, they are likely to only be minor, and the benefit of developing immunity far outweighs the potential cost of receiving a vaccine. Another common misconception is that certain vaccines will actually cause other forms of disease or mental illness. There is no real scientific basis for these ideas, and any “evidence” that can be found on the internet has been proven on multiple occasions to be false and made up.
The Future of Immunization
Modern research on immunization has advanced by leaps and bounds recently due to the necessity of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. This could mean the development of new vaccines that do an even better job of protecting people. Or it could mean the development of immunization options for diseases that don’t have vaccines yet. This research is ongoing, but as a result of the revolutionary development of mRNA vaccine technology, it’s possible that the way vaccines are developed could change and even improve in the near future. Therefore, not only would it be incredibly beneficial for children to receive vaccines, but it would also be increasingly safe and easy.
What Immunizations Should My Child Receive?
Immunizations begin at a young age—so young, in fact, that newborn babies usually receive their first vaccinations before leaving the hospital. This way, they can begin to build immunity to diseases from the beginning of their lives. Children should receive the majority of their immunizations by around the age of six, or whenever they begin to go to school. Some boosters must continue to be given throughout childhood and even adolescence, though most vaccines should be completed by the time the child becomes a legal adult. However, vaccinations may need to be readministered if unforeseen events occur, such as medical records being inaccurately filled out or a child experiencing an injury that requires a booster (i.e. stepping on a nail could mean needing to receive a fresh tetanus vaccine).
The list of immunizations that children receive is long, and we recommend that parents keep track of it themselves in the event that medical records are filled out inaccurately. These vaccinations include:
- Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine
- Hepatitis A vaccine
- Hepatitis B vaccine
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
- Influenza (flu) vaccine
- Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine
- Meningococcal (meningitis) vaccine
- Pneumococcal vaccine
- Polio vaccine
- Rotavirus vaccine
Vaccines are usually administered according to a schedule laid out by your child’s pediatrician, and you’ll need to do your best to stay current on that schedule. Also, with immunization science advancing so rapidly, it’s possible that in the future, this list will grow to include other vaccines for diseases that were previously untreatable.
We’re Here to Help!
If your child needs to receive their latest vaccinations, our pediatric staff would be happy to help provide them. Immunization is all about protecting our children from harm and doing our best to help them live happy, healthy lives. Schedule an appointment to discuss immunization today!