The Importance of Childhood Immunizations

A quick guide to pediatric vaccines and a reminder of their value

Vaccinations can protect children from contracting diseases when they are most vulnerable, while their immune systems are forming.

Vaccinations against many formerly common diseases of childhood have been with us for more than three generations. As a result, many people are unfamiliar with the symptoms and complications of diseases that affected millions of children in the past.

Vaccinations can protect children from contracting diseases when they are most vulnerable, while their immune systems are forming. In addition, widespread vaccination protects those children who cannot receive vaccinations (due to age, allergies or other factors) by reducing their exposure to contagious diseases.

This infographic (PDF, 6.8 MB) outlines the current vaccination schedule for children under the age of 6 recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Vaccine-preventable diseases

Infographic Childhood Vaccine Schedule 150×735

Vaccine-preventable diseases

Below is a list of some diseases that can be prevented by vaccines. Statistical reports for hospitalizations and deaths show a dramatic decrease in incidence of these diseases in the United States due to widespread vaccination.

  • Diphtheria
    1950: 5,796 cases, 410 deaths
    2007: 0 cases, 0 deaths
    Diphtheria is a respiratory illness that causes a thick coating to build up in the nose and throat, making breathing and swallowing difficult.
  • Measles
    1950: 319,124 cases, 468 deaths
    2007: 43 cases, 0 deaths
    A disease that begins with a high fever, cough, watery eyes and runny nose followed by a rash of red spots and fevers higher than 104.
  • Mumps
    1968: 152,209 cases, 25 deaths
    2007: 800 cases, 0 deaths
    An infection that leads to painful swelling of the salivary glands, mumps can also spread to the central nervous system, pancreas and the testes in males.
  • Hepatitis A & B
    1966: 34,356 cases
    2007: 7,498 cases
    Hepatitis caused by different viruses damages the liver. Hepatitis A is spread through contamination of food and beverages; hepatitis B is spread through contaminated blood and other body fluids.
  • Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib)
    1991: 2,764 cases, 17 deaths
    2007: 2,541 cases, 10 deaths
    A bacterial infection that can cause invasive infection, including meningitis, pneumonia, severe throat infection (epiglottitis), brain damage, hearing loss, limb loss, blood infection and death.
  • Poliomyelitis (polio)
    1950: 33,300 cases, 1,904 deaths
    2007: 0 cases, 0 deaths
    Polio begins with a sore throat and fever, headache, fatigue and nausea. Most people who contract the illness recover, but some suffer from permanent muscle weakness and paralysis; one in 25 develops meningitis. The U.S. has been free of polio since 1991 due to widespread vaccinations.
  • Varicella (chickenpox)
    1972: 164,114 cases, 122 deaths
    2007: 40,146, 6 deaths
    The disease causes a high fever, headache and fatigue, then an itchy, fluid-filled blistering rash that spreads across the body. After having the chicken pox, the virus can reactivate in the nervous system as a painful condition called shingles — which requires a separate vaccination after age 50.
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
    1979: 1,623 cases, 6 deaths
    2007: 10,454 cases, 9 deaths
    Pertussis (whooping cough) is highly contagious and spreads quickly among unvaccinated individuals. It begins like a cold and within two weeks transforms into severe coughing fits that can lead to apnea (a pause in breathing), pneumonia, convulsions, encephalopathy and rib fractures. Pertussis rates were as low as 1,248 cases in 1981 and began increasing in correlation with the decreased rates of vaccination starting in the early 1990s.
  • Rubella
    1966: 46,975 cases, 12 deaths
    2007: 11 cases, 1 death
    Also known as German measles, rubella is especially dangerous for women of childbearing age, because it can cause birth defects including deafness, cataracts, heart defects, mental retardation and liver and spleen damage in the developing baby.
  • Tetanus
    1950: 486 cases, 336 deaths
    2007: 28 cases, 5 deaths
    Tetanus, or lockjaw, is a serious infection that causes the muscles of the body to tighten. It can lead to the victim being unable to open the mouth to swallow.

This content was reviewed and approved by Gary Chun, MD, pediatrician at Scripps Clinic .