Shots, Suckers & Stickers, an Update on Childhood Vaccines
Daniel R. Brennan, MD, CLC, FAAP, Pediatrics
Going to the doctor for an immunization is about as much fun as getting a shot in the arm, except that you might get a sticker and lollipop. When you consider some of the diseases that you could contract if you skip these vital vaccines, then it’s definitely worth choosing the poke and getting the pop.
Are Vaccines Still Necessary in 2013?
For many of us in the child rearing years, diseases such as polio, measles and pertussis sound like ancient history. Many young parents did not grow up fearing these diseases and often have a false sense of security about their child’s risk of contracting a vaccine preventable disease. The truth is, pertussis is at epidemic levels across the country and other diseases, such as measles and polio, are just a plane ride away.
Pediatricians embrace vaccines because they help our tiniest patients build strong immune systems. Most parents were vaccinated when they were young and are excited to offer immunizations to their children. A few parents have concerns and wonder if vaccines are still necessary and safe to give.
Here’s an update on our current childhood vaccines.
DTaP (DIPHTHERIA, TETANUS, PERTUSSIS): The incidence of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is at a 60-year high in California. A highly contagious bacterium, pertussis can cause a debilitating cough lasting several months and can be fatal for infants. Tetanus can be contracted from a dirty cut or wound. Diphtheria is rarely seen in this country anymore, thanks to our immunization programs.
HIB (HAEMOPHILUS INFLUENZA, TYPE B): HIB was a common cause of meningitis and epiglottitis until recently. Our immunization program has successfully eradicated this bacterial strain from our communities, but it is still prevalent in neighboring countries. My senior partner likes to remind us about how many spinal taps he used to do in the office before the HIB vaccine.
POLIO: This virus is still present in parts of the world, such as Africa and India, and we will continue our vaccination program until we can eradicate it completely.
PNEUMOCOCCUS: This vaccine is one of my favorites. It protects infants against strep pneumococcus, a common cause of meningitis, blood infections, pneumonia and ear infections. This vaccine prevents many babies from needing hospitalization, powerful antibiotics and invasive procedures such as spinal taps.
MMR (MEASLES, MUMPS, RUBELLA): Unfortunately, measles and mumps outbreaks still occur in this country, largely triggered when an unimmunized person travels abroad, gets infected and brings it back home. Rubella can cause serious birth defects if acquired by a pregnant woman. A decade ago there was concern that the MMR vaccine could be linked to certain developmental delays, such as autism. We now know this theory to be untrue. Contracting the measles and developing a complication called encephalitis can still cause permanent brain damage, however.
CHICKENPOX: Up to 150 children a year used to die from the chickenpox and thousands more had serious complications. Universal vaccination is contributing to the eradication of the chickenpox virus.
HEPATITIS A: This nasty virus can be contracted from contaminated food or water. If you like to travel, swim in the ocean or eat fresh fruit at a farmer’s market, then please stop by your doctor’s office for this two part series.
HEPATITIS B: This hepatitis is generally spread by contact with bodily fluids and can lead to serious liver disease. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
ROTAVIRUS: This virus may be the worst of the “stomach flu” viruses. It is responsible for thousands of hospitalizations and emergency room visits each year. This vaccine is administered to infants in the form of oral drops.
MENINGITIS: People living in crowded quarters such as dorms are at higher risk for meningococcal disease. Most colleges now require this vaccine.
HPV (HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS): The virus that causes genital warts can also cause cervical cancer. This is the first vaccine that can prevent cancer and is now available to both females and males.
Tdap (ADOLESCENT AND ADULT TETANUS, DIPHTHERIA AND PERTUSSIS): This booster to the DTaP can now offer teens and adults a chance to boost their immunity to pertussis. Did you know that almost a third of infants infected with pertussis contracted it from their moms? It is especially important for new and soon-to-be moms to get this vaccine.
A Community Contract
Vaccines successfully keep our children healthy and continue to reduce infant mortality. With higher rates of immunization, our communities are less likely to experience outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases. The few who choose to not vaccinate, however, put their own children at risk and increase the chances of other children or adults with compromised immune systems to become ill. To see the full benefit of vaccines, we recommend that all children follow the standard vaccine schedule that is published yearly by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics, rather than adopting a fad ‘alternative’ schedule.
Pediatricians can offer more than ever to keep our children healthy. Decades of research have proven vaccines to be safe and effective. Childhood vaccines continue to be an important tool in the prevention of disease. The next time you come in for your annual checkup, please don’t forget to ask your white-coated crusader about vaccines – you might even get lucky and go home with a sucker and a sticker.
Dr. Dan Brennan is a board certified pediatrician at 51 Hitchcock Way in Santa Barbara. Dr. Brennan earned his Bachelor of Science degree from UCLA and his medical degree from Albany Medical College. He completed his pediatric internship and residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Brennan is an accomplished healthcare columnist, a public speaker, and a contributing writer for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website www.HealthyChildren.org.