Childhood vaccines help save lives. They protect against infectious diseases that once killed or harmed many people in the United States but have now been eliminated or significantly reduced, including polio, measles, meningitis and mumps.
Most parents follow the recommended vaccination schedule set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The schedule recommends when children and teens should receive each vaccine.
Well-child visits are the best time to get scheduled vaccinations. These visits are also essential for tracking growth and developmental milestones and discussing any concerns about your child's health, including questions about vaccines.
There is no convincing evidence that vaccines are harmful to children. If you have questions about the safety of vaccines, make sure the vaccine information comes from a credible source. Better yet, bring it up with your primary care physician to get the facts.
While childhood vaccines are safe and effective, some parents refuse, delay or are hesitant to vaccinate their children. Their reasons vary, including religious reasons, personal beliefs and a desire for more information from health care providers.
However, delaying or skipping vaccinations can put a child’s health at risk. Children are left exposed to numerous illnesses when they are not vaccinated. Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are often linked to parents who did not vaccinate their children.
“If your child is due, or overdue, for vaccinations regardless of age, we urge you to make an appointment with your child’s doctor now,” says Erin O’Leary, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley. “It is always better to prevent a disease than to try to treat it and its side effects after it occurs.”
Babies are born with immune systems that can fight most diseases. Vaccines help them fight certain serious and deadly diseases that their bodies cannot yet handle.
Children begin vaccination early because they are most vulnerable to diseases at a young age. Vaccines strengthen their immune system.
By age 2, vaccinated children are protected from 14 potentially serious diseases. “If children are not vaccinated, they become at high risk for developing serious illnesses, including measles and whooping cough,” Dr. O’Leary says.
“It’s crucial to maintain your child’s immunizations,” adds Dania Lindenberg, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest. Physicians are better able to diagnose a child who has symptoms of an illness when they know what the child has been vaccinated for already, she says.
The CDC’s Vaccines for Children program offers vaccines at no cost for children whose parents or guardians may not be able to afford them.
Vaccinations protect your family, your friends and your community.
When children receive vaccines, they not only protect themselves, they protect children who cannot be immunized, including:
- Children too young to be vaccinated
- Children who can’t receive certain vaccines due to severe allergies
- Children with a weakened immune system due to an illness, such as cancer
Vaccines are thoroughly tested before they are approved for public use. Millions of children safely receive vaccines every year.
Any vaccine can cause side effects. Childhood vaccines can cause mild side effects, such as pain, redness or tenderness at the injection site. Severe allergic reaction is rare. Research has found no link between vaccines and autism.
The CDC recommends everyone six months and older should get an annual flu vaccine, ideally by the end of October.
The CDC advises everyone six months and older can get an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against severe illness.
Vaccine-preventable diseases continue to infect children in the United States for a variety of reasons. Whooping cough (pertussis) and measles are less common than a generation ago but continue to be reported in the US.
The only vaccine-preventable disease that has been eradicated in the world is smallpox. Polio is close to being eliminated but remains in certain countries that struggle with vaccination.
Vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. are often attributed to foreign visitors and returning vacationers.
Vaccines protect future generations by keeping diseases that used to be common in the U.S. from coming back.
“We are fortunate in the U.S. to have easy access to vaccines that have allowed us to greatly reduce or eradicate several diseases,” Dr. O’Leary says.
The goal is that some diseases of today will no longer be around to harm people in the future.