By DR. DAWN R. MARCELLE | Region 2 Medical Director, LDH Office of Public Health
Keeping our children safe and healthy rank among the highest of parents’ concerns — and where safety and health meet, the topic of vaccines will often arise. While parents have the right to make decisions about their children’s health, as a pediatrician and a mother of two, I can confidently say without hesitation that overall, vaccines are safe and effective.
Vaccines are the best way to protect your child against a number of illnesses, including measles, whooping cough (pertussis) and mumps, all of which have made a comeback in recent years due to a drop in vaccination rates. Other vaccine-preventable illnesses include tetanus, diphtheria, varicella (chickenpox), rubella, hepatitis B, polio, meningococcal meningitis and influenza, especially now with flu season in full swing across Louisiana.
How they work
A vaccine contains a version of the bacterium or virus responsible for a particular disease. Vaccines can be live (containing a weakened form of the bacterium or virus) or inactivated (containing a killed version of the bacterium or virus).
For example; if you receive a chickenpox vaccine, the presence of the chickenpox virus in the vaccine causes the body to think that it’s under attack. This activates the immune system, which treats the weakened/dead chickenpox virus (antigen) like a full-blown infection and makes antibodies to fight off the disease. These chickenpox antibodies remain in the person’s immune system, ready to provide active protection if you come into future contact with live chickenpox virus.
With so many vaccines out there, how is a parent to know which vaccine is needed and when? That’s where immunization schedules are helpful. Developed with your child’s safety in mind, immunization schedules show which vaccines are given at which stages of your child’s life. Following such schedules provides immunity early in life before most infants and children are exposed to life-threatening diseases.
Vaccination schedules are developed by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The committee includes physicians and public health practitioners who are dedicated to keeping children safe and healthy. All vaccines listed on immunization schedules have been exhaustively tested to be sure they are safe and effective. Sometimes multiple vaccines will be given at a single pediatric visit, and this is safe and normal. There’s not enough antigens in vaccines to overload a healthy baby’s immune system. In fact, during an average day a baby will encounter more antigens than they will receive in a vaccine.
Some parents, expressing concern about the number of vaccines their children receive from infancy to school age, may wish to follow an alternative schedule that spreads out vaccines or even skips some entirely. This practice is discouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends parents follow established immunization schedules. These schedules are for your child’s protection, and following them gives your child immunity early in life, before they can be exposed to potentially deadly diseases like measles.
Keep in mind that some children can’t be vaccinated, such as those with weakened immune systems due to an illness or medical treatment. The best protection for these children is for everyone around them to be vaccinated — that includes parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and any caregivers.
As a pediatrician, let me say once again that vaccines are overwhelmingly proven safe and effective. I encourage parents to follow the recommended immunization schedules to give their children the best possible protection against a number of serious diseases.
The American Academy of Pediatrics considers vaccines to be one of the the most significant medical innovations of our time. Considering the countless lives saved thanks to vaccines, I couldn’t agree more.
- View the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization schedule: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html
- View the State of Louisiana’s 2019 immunization schedule: https://lalinks.org/linksweb/pdf/Immunization%20Schedule_January%202019.pdf
- Review and print your child’s official immunization records at any time, free of charge: https://la.myir.net/
- Free vaccines for qualified children younger than 19 years of age: http://www.ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/page/3015