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Recent outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough spotlight the importance of infant/child vaccinations. The medical community, backed by rigorous scientific research, strongly promotes vaccinating children against more than a dozen childhood diseases by age two.
In this back-to-school Q&A, NorthShore-affiliated Pediatrician James Olson, MD, answers frequently asked questions about childhood immunizations.
Q. What vaccines are required for infants and toddlers?A. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other physician organizations, promotes a vaccination schedule that protects against chickenpox, diphtheria, Hib (a bacteria that can cause meningitis), hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, influenza, polio, pneumococcus (a bacteria causing ear and bloodstream infections and pneumonia) rotavirus, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough.
Q. Can my infant/toddler’s body handle that many inoculations?A. Yes. Babies encounter thousands of antigens—foreign substances that stimulate the body’s immune response—every day as they interact with their environment. Vaccines contain only a tiny, but specific amount of antigens children need to withstand vaccine-preventable disease.
Q. Why should I follow CDC vaccination guidelines?A. These guidelines protect children early-on when they are most vulnerable to diseases with serious health implications, including death. It’s clear that delaying vaccines puts children at risk for contracting one of these diseases.
Q. Are there children who should not receive vaccines?A. Nearly all children can be safely vaccinated. Some of the very rare exceptions include children with weakened immune systems from chronic illness, cancer and chemotherapy treatment, or allergies to specific ingredients within the vaccine. Discuss these cases with your pediatrician.
Q. What are the overall benefits of childhood vaccines?A. Vaccines are one of the most successful public health interventions in human history. Diseases that once threatened the lives of children (and adults) have been nearly eradicated in the U.S. Unfortunately, the success we’ve realized in eliminating disease has persuaded some people to believe that vaccination is no longer necessary. But as we’ve learned from recent measles outbreaks that’s not the case, and vaccinations are still a crucial part of protecting the public’s health.