August is Immunization Awareness Month, and as parents prepare to send their children back to school, the topic of immunization is often on their minds.
At school, kids are exposed to germs that can cause a variety of harmful illnesses. Immunization is the safe process of strengthening the immune system through vaccinations, so that the body develops a protective response against some of those diseases. Thus, vaccines protect individuals and entire communities from the development and spread of harmful diseases, and many are required as part of public school enrollment.
Vaccines help humans develop immunity without getting sick first. Vaccines work because they are made from the same antigens, or foreign substances such as bacteria, viruses or pollen, that cause disease. When these antigens are injected into the body through a vaccine, they create antibodies that protect the body against the disease germs. Thanks to this response, the body learns to fight off that type of antigen in the future before developing an infection. Vaccines produce effective immunity more than 90 percent of the time.
Generally, children should begin receiving immunizations at an early age. Most infants will receive a first round of vaccinations at 2 months old, three rounds of vaccinations by age 1, and three additional rounds by age 2. These initial vaccinations protect babies from diseases like rotavirus, whooping cough, and two of the most common types of meningitis.
Children will continue to receive vaccinations throughout their lives, even into adulthood. Booster shots for a variety of illnesses are recommended for those entering elementary school and middle school, and during high school. Flu vaccines are recommended annually for people of all ages.
New immunizations continually become available, most recently HPV and a new type of meningitis vaccine for young people. Other vaccinations are recommended for seniors, pregnant women, and those traveling to certain destinations. However, vaccines are not always recommended for people with suppressed immune systems.
Vaccinations can cause negative side effects, which are generally minor, and much safer than actually developing the disease. Common side effects from vaccines in infants and children include increased fussiness or drowsiness for up to 48 hours after immunization, low-grade fevers and sometimes rashes. Though inconvenient, these side effects indicate that the immune system is responding to the vaccine and that the vaccine is working.
In recent years, there has been increased discussion regarding the safety of vaccines. However, vaccines are highly regulated and there is an abundance of reliable evidence to support the safety of immunizing children. Overwhelmingly, data have shown that vaccines save lives when administered according to the appropriate schedule.
One of the keys to successful immunization is knowing which vaccines to receive at what time. Check with your child’s pediatrician, as recommendations and schedules may vary from person to person. Before sending your child back to school, be sure they are up-to-date on all vaccines.
Dr. Amanda Smith is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.