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What Every Parent Should Know About Immunizations

Watching your child get a shot isn't easy. It's even harder if you have fears or concerns about the safety or necessity of the vaccine.

Millions of parents immunize their kids each year without concern. Yet some parents have heard rumors that vaccines can cause serious health problems.

So, who can parents turn to for the facts about vaccine safety? Your child's doctor is your first resource for reliable information. Health care providers are bound by law to provide you with written information on both the benefits and risks of each immunization suggested for your child. Reading this material can help you make a well-informed decision.

Another resource for in-depth information on vaccine safety is the CDC

Are immunizations safe?

Yes. All vaccines are fully tested before being approved for use by the FDA. Vaccines contain weakened toxins, or a dead or weakened form of the disease-causing virus or bacteria, which causes the body to produce antibodies that protect the child from that disease.

Diseases such as polio and mumps are rare, so why are vaccines necessary?

Many of these diseases still thrive in other parts of the world. Travelers can and do bring these viruses back to the United States. Without the protection of vaccines, these diseases could easily spread here again.

Don't vaccines cause harmful side effects, illness, and even death?

Some children have minor side effects from being vaccinated, such as a slight fever or swelling at the injection site. The risk for death or serious side effects is so small that it is difficult to document. Claims that vaccines cause autism or other diseases have been carefully researched and disproved. Rumors still persist that an increase in autism in children is caused by thimerosal, a preservative added to vaccines. Thimerosal, however, was removed from all vaccines in Sweden in 1995, and the incidence of autism has continued to increase there. It has also been nearly eliminated in the United States, where autism rates also continue to increase, as they have throughout the world. After a thorough review, in 2004 the Institute of Medicine rejected the idea that vaccines had any relationship with autism.  

Won't giving babies multiple vaccines at one time overload their immune system?

Many studies have been done to assess the safety of multiple vaccinations. None has shown that multiple vaccinations cause a problem. Children are exposed to many foreign substances every day with no harmful effects. Scientists say that the tiny amount of virus or bacteria in vaccines is not enough to harm a child. What can be harmful, however, is delaying a child's vaccines unnecessarily.

What is the association between vaccinations and SIDS?

According to the recommendations developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help reduce the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related deaths in infants up to 12 months old, making sure that your child is fully immunized can help reduce the risk for SIDS by 50 percent.  

Keeping track of immunizations

Most of your child’s vaccinations are completed between birth and 6 years. Many vaccines are given more than once, at different ages, and in combinations. This means that you’ll need to keep a careful record of your child's shots. Although your doctor's office will also keep track, people change doctors, records get lost, and the person ultimately responsible for keeping track of your child's immunizations is you.

Ask your child's doctor for an immunization record form. Think about your child's record as you would a birth certificate and keep it with your other essential documents. You can also download an easy-to-read immunization schedule and record form at the CDC website.

Even though most parents and doctors do a good job of keeping up with immunizations, studies show that about one-fourth of preschool children are missing at least one routine vaccination. Most states will not let your child start school without a complete immunization record. Sometimes a vaccination is missed when a child is sick. No matter what the reason, it’s important to make up missed immunizations.

If your child has missed an immunization, you don't have to go back and start over for most vaccines. The previous immunizations are still good. Your doctor will just resume the immunization schedule. If, for any reason, your child receives additional doses of a vaccine, this is also not a concern, although your child will still need any future doses according to the recommended schedule.

Final tips on immunizations

Keep this information in mind to help your child’s immunizations go more smoothly: 

  • Common side effects of immunizations include swelling at the site of the injection, soreness, and fever. Discuss these side effects with your doctor and ask what symptoms deserve an office call.

  • Ask your doctor's office if it participates in an immunization registry. This is a source you can go to if your immunization records get lost.

  • Ask your doctor's office if it has an immunization reminder or recall system. This type of system will call to remind you when immunizations are due and will warn you if an immunization has been missed.

  • Always bring your immunizations record with you to all of your child's office visits and make sure the doctor signs and dates every immunization.

Vaccines are some of the safest and most effective medicines we have, and they have made many dangerous childhood diseases rare today.