Uncovering the mystery of children’s immunizations

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

With the start of school fast approaching, there’s frequently a feeling of a need to get organized.

Living in a family is complicated with schedules and many conflicting needs. Children come with their own entire subset of things to keep up with — their school work, their activities, their chores. And then, there’s that one thing about your children that you have to keep up with that’s sort of mystical: Their immunizations.

You know you have to keep up with their shots, and you know it’s ultimately good for them, their health and safety, and that of the rest of your family. Thankfully, we’re moving away from a long era of immunization misinformation based on faulty and fabricated research. That makes the fearful part much easier for parents, but keeping them in order can be a little confusing and overwhelming at times.

Does MMR come before the hepatitis B? Or does the rotavirus vaccine come before the influenza shot? And, what the heck is MMR, anyway? Here are some answers and resources we think will help.

Vaccines are administered to your baby even before you leave the hospital, starting with the hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine helps prevent against, you guessed it, hepatitis B, which can lead to severe liver damage, liver cancer and, in some cases, death.

Vaccines are important because, ultimately, they save lives and protect society at large. Before the invention of the Polio vaccine, for example, 10,000 American children suffered paralysis every year.

And, before the rubella vaccine became available in 1963, an epidemic hit the United States, mainly pregnant women. More than 11,000 fetuses died and another 20,000 children were born with severe birth defects.

Despite medicine and science’s best efforts, diseases preventable by vaccines have not been eradicated. In 2011, there were more than 200 cases of measles reported in the U.S. in 17 outbreaks in 31 states. Many of the initial cases were imported from other countries, then spread to under-immunized communities.

They’re all important, so to isolate a select few diseases prevented by vaccines may seem unfair. But some are particularly noteworthy.

Meningococcal meningitis strikes 2,600 children every year in the United States. It’s a disease that targets the fluid in the spinal cord and fluid that surrounds the brain. Most of its victims are younger than 5 or adolescents 15-24. A vaccine by age 10 for certain high risk groups of children is highly recommended.

The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is also a must. Two doses, one at age 12 months and the second at four years, helps protect against all three infections. The trio is a triple threat indeed, as they can all cause permanent disability or death. Measles shows up as a rash and high fever and can cause death. Mumps leads to a swelling of the salivary glands that can last up to a week and cause deafness. And, rubella can strike a pregnant woman and infect her fetus, causing severe birth defects.

And, there’s the latest big news from the vaccine world. There’s now an immunization that can help guard against the human papillomavirus, which causes certain types of cervical cancer. It’s a controversial vaccine for societal reasons but ultimately one that could save your child’s life.

For a complete lineup of vaccines, and even better, a schedule to help you track them all and keep up with them, visit www.immunizationinfo.org.

It’s a site updated, in part, by the University of Texas Medical Branch and there’s plenty of information about vaccines and why they’re so important.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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