You've no doubt encountered a wide variety of opinions about how to keep your child healthy, happy, and active. When it comes to your children's health, a great pediatrician is one of your best allies. If you haven't already had a conversation about a healthy immune system for you and your children, try using the following set of questions -- and answers -- as a framework to seek out information and gain a more complete understanding about vaccines from your doctor.
- What do vaccinations do? Vaccines work on the basic biological principle that the immune system can learn to recognize and respond to foreign invaders. The idea behind vaccination, then, is to expose the immune system to a dead, weakened, or otherwise modified microorganism so that she or he can form antibodies before ever being exposed to the actual illness. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that routine pneumococcus vaccinations reduce the risk of getting pneumococcal disease, which is the leading cause of pneumonia and meningitis among children. It has also been shown that just one dose of a measles vaccine is 93 percent effective in preventing this highly contagious infection.
- When do kids need to be vaccinated? Different vaccines should come at different times in a child's life. Use the CDC's immunization schedule or this vaccine-schedule table created by the Immunization Action Coalition as a guideline, but be sure to follow your pediatrician's recommendations.
- Why do kids who are healthy and active need to be vaccinated? Because unvaccinated children -- even the healthy ones -- are far more susceptible to contracting a disease and exposing their peers to it. Measles, for instance, was considered extinct at the turn of the century, but it appears to be one of a number of resurfacing diseases as vaccination rates decline. According to Jason McDonald, a spokesperson for the CDC, "If you are unvaccinated and you come in contact with measles, there's a 90 percent chance you will get it."
- Are there any vaccines we should pay particular attention to? Mumps, whooping cough, and chicken pox, along with measles, are some of the vaccine-preventable diseases that have been showing up more lately. Use this interactive map created by the Council on Foreign Relations to stay up to speed regarding vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.
- If the disease is eliminated (or under control), why are vaccinations still necessary? As noted in the previous question, vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks are common. Thus, vaccines are necessary in order to limit the potential for contracting an infectious disease and spreading it to others.
- Where can I get affordable immunizations? According to the CDC, "all health insurance marketplace plans and most other private insurance plans" cover the following vaccines without requiring a co-payment: hepatitis A; hepatitis B; herpes zoster; human papillomavirus; influenza; measles, mumps, rubella (MMR); meningococcal; pneumococcal; tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (Tdap); and varicella. There are also federally funded health care centers that offer vaccinations if you do not have a source of health care.
- What if my family is traveling? If your family is traveling, make sure to go to the CDC website to find travel clinics near you and check the recommended vaccines for the locations to which you're traveling.
- What are some sources that I can reference to learn more about vaccinations? Visit the following websites: the CDC's Vaccines & Immunizations page, Immunization Action Coalition, Council on Foreign Relations, and Vaccines.gov.
- Which diseases are we still trying to develop vaccines for? There are roughly300 vaccines currently in development. Many organizations and societies are focusing on vaccine education, promotion, and research, and leading doctors and scientists worldwide are actively trying to develop and optimize vaccines for fatal diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. There are also promising vaccines being tested for Ebola and Type 1 Diabetes.
It's clear that there's a wealth of information and resources available for you to learn about vaccines. Still, the best conversation you can have is the one with your pediatrician or primary care doctor. A good relationship with your doctor - one with a strong focus on open dialogue and trust - will be the most helpful to you as you keep yourself and your family healthy.