Parents' Guide to Vaccinations

Article Date: May 16, 2011

Kirti Gupta , M.D., PhD. Whether your child is 17 days or 17 years old, vaccinations are always in the back of your mind. Babies, children and adolescents all need vaccinations to keep them healthy, but when do you get them? Why do they need them? And what about you? All are valid questions, so we went to an expert to get you answers.

Kirti Gupta, M.D., Ph.D., of Alegent Health Clinic, is board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics. She tackles some of the most commonly asked questions about immunizations here.

Q: What childhood immunizations does my child need?

A: There are 14 vaccinations that a child needs. These are specifically targeted to childhood illnesses that historically proved either fatal or were associated with high morbidity (prevalence of disease in a certain population).

The good news is that technology has allowed us to safely combine various vaccines into a single injection. Children get the same protection with only one poke. Take DTaP, for example. It is a combination vaccine against Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertussis. Pediatrix works the same way by combining DTaP, HepB (Hepatitis B)and IPV (Inactivated Polio Virus).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that childhood vaccinations begin before a baby even leaves the hospital with scheduled boosters and additional shots over the next several years.

Q: Can my child get sick from the vaccine, or get an illness, despite getting the vaccine?

A: There have, unfortunately, been some breakthrough illnesses in spite of being vaccinated. The current cases of children with whooping cough are the result of adults passing it on to kids. The vaccine effect seems to have waned with time. As a result, adults get infected with Pertussis and then transmit this bacteria to children who are either very young or have not completed their vaccination series yet.

It is unlikely to get an infection from the vaccine as most of them are either weakened live virus (MMR vaccine) or killed viruses (Influenza vaccine). That said, there is a possibility of being infected due to the vaccine if there is immune compromise of any kind.

Q: Are vaccines really safe? Can they cause autism or trigger other diseases?

A: Yes, vaccines are considered safe. Their benefits significantly outweigh the risks of adverse effects, including pain at the site of injection and low-grade fever.

There is no association between thimerosal, a common preservative in multi-dose vaccines, and autism or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Except for influenza, vaccines for children younger than 6 years of age are now preservative free.

Many studies done across the world have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism. The doctor in Britain who made that claim has been stripped of his medical license and other authors who were listed in the paper have withdrawn their names. The article itself was withdrawn from the journal. An investigation showed that Dr. Wakefield, the main author, manipulated the data and practiced unethical methodology.

Although they are very rare, an allergic reaction to some part of the vaccine is a possibility and formal testing is then recommended.

Q: Are there side effects from vaccines that I should watch for?

A: Serious adverse effects that require immediate medical attention include unresponsiveness, collapse, breathing problems including wheezing. Other serious effects include temperature more than 105F, inconsolable crying for more than 3 hours without stopping, convulsions or seizure-like activity within 48 hours of vaccination. These are reported to the government Vaccine Adverse Effect monitoring sites.

Q: Why is the state of Nebraska requiring all students to have proof of two varicella (chicken pox) vaccinations – or a parent report of having had the disease – for the 2011-2012 school year?

A: The chickenpox vaccine is usually administered between 12 to 18 months of age and was considered sufficient to build long-lasting immunity. However research in 2005 showed that the effect of the vaccine does wear off, leaving the youth and adults susceptible to the infection which can have serious complications. As a result, a booster shot is recommended between ages 4 and 6. For children 8 to 12 and teenagers who only received only one dose of the vaccine, the second dose is recommended.

Q: Will my health insurance plan cover the cost of vaccinations for my child?


A: Health insurers pay for most vaccines, and public clinics offer them free under the federal Vaccines for Children Program of 1994.

Q: Some diseases, like polio and diphtheria, have been wiped out in this country. Why do we need to vaccinate a child against a disease she or he likely won’t get? What happens if we don’t vaccination our child?

A: Historical data shows that in the 1930s the United States had approximately 30,000 diptheria cases a year, with about 3,000 deaths. Post vaccination the number of cases shrunk to an almost negligible number. But when the former Soviet Union broke up into independent states, the disease reappeared and the Red Cross estimates 100,000 current cases with about 5,000 deaths.

The world is becoming a smaller place and we know that there are many parts of the globe where these horrible diseases still exist. Many areas lack the resources to vaccinate or even treat these deadly diseases. At the same time, world travel has become easier, which is why we are seeing the reemergence of disease in the West.

To prevent is always better than cure and hence vaccination is so much more important today.

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Related Links
Kirti Gupta , M.D., PhD.

Web Chat Replay: Ask Dr. Gupta

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CDC Vaccination Reccomendations