A vaccine update.
Spring/summer is upon us. After enduring a long winter, often accompanied by extreme weather, we look forward to milder conditions and summer vacation. The season often coincides with an annual checkup — along with vaccinations.
Vaccines protect against viruses and bacteria that can cause illness, disability or even death. They work by introducing into the body a form of the virus or bacteria protein that triggers the immune system. The body reacts to this protein, creating antibodies that build immunity and the ability to fight off the disease. The vaccine teaches the body to recognize the virus or bacteria and attack it with the antibodies it creates — the immune response.
The number of shots kids receive can make some parents uneasy. However, extensive research shows that the number and frequency are safe, so it makes sense to follow the recommended immunization schedule. The immune systems of healthy kids and babies can respond to multiple vaccines. After a lengthy, thorough review of the scientific evidence, the Institute of Medicine issued a report in January 2013 confirming the safety of the childhood immunization schedule in the U.S.
Although 90 percent of kids in the U.S. are vaccinated according to the recommended schedule, some parents follow a timeline that spreads vaccine administration over a longer period. Alternative schedules actually may expose these children to increased risk of disease.
Diseases such as polio and measles — rarely seen in the U.S. — still exist in other parts of the world. Viewing disease as global, and recognizing the ease of air travel, vaccination efforts in the U.S. must remain vigilant.
Parents can be influenced by information obtained on the Internet and from friends and family, which is not always correct. It’s best to rely on your provider, who specializes in the care of kids, and whose motivation is to protect them from disease and illness.
Combination vaccines are safe and useful, providing protection against more than one disease at a time. New combination vaccines are expected to be developed and available in the near future.
Diseases and germs change, along with the response to a vaccine. Scientists study these changes, and vaccine recommendations may be altered to reflect the latest science and disease occurrence. The names and abbreviations may be confusing, and the amount of information overwhelming. Don’t hesitate to ask your provider for clarification when needed.
Each year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) review current vaccines and update the recommendations. The CDC and the Immunization Action Coalition Web sites are good, trusted resources for vaccine information, with easy-to-follow immunization schedules.
Catch-up schedules for kids who missed vaccines are available. If your child misses a shot, you don’t have to start over in a series. Just schedule a visit to receive the missed shot.
The 2013 schedule also includes links to information on travel requirements and recommendations for kids with high-risk medical situations.
The latest vaccine recommendations for disease prevention follow.
Pertussis (or whooping cough) is a respiratory illness caused by bacteria that can result in severe coughing or trouble breathing. The number of whooping cough cases in the U.S. has risen to an all-time high. Whooping cough is highly contagious, and spreads through coughing and sneezing. The disease can cause persistent, violent, rapid coughing until all the air is gone from the lungs and the person is forced to inhale with a loud whooping sound. The cough can last for several weeks.
Whooping cough can be dangerous to newborns and babies. Newborns cannot start vaccination until two months of age. Babies usually catch whooping cough from someone in their family, so everyone caring for babies should get a booster shot for it.
Young children are routinely vaccinated against whooping cough. We now know that immunity to this disease can wane over time, requiring a booster shot for older kids and adults, the Tdap vaccine.
Pregnant women should now be vaccinated for whooping cough, to create a circle of protection around the new baby.
We don’t think about influenza during the warmer months, but the flu season has a way of creeping up on us, and vaccination can start as early as August. Influenza outbreaks may vary each year. Most flu occurs from January to March, but cases can occur as early as October. Flu is very contagious and can cause complications such as pneumonia and even death. The flu virus, usually spread by coughing and sneezing, can live on objects we touch.
The vaccine is developed early in the year, anticipating the best protection based on past experience and scientific data. There are two types of flu vaccines: inactivated injection and weakened live virus spray-mist. Contrary to what you may have heard, the flu vaccine does not cause the flu.
Everyone older than six months of age should receive a flu vaccine. People with a mild egg allergy should get the flu shot, not the flu mist. The prior recommendation that anyone with an egg allergy avoid the vaccine has been replaced. Now only those with severe allergies should avoid the flu shot. Kids younger than nine years who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time need two doses, spaced four weeks apart.
Hepatitis A is a virus that causes an infection in the liver. Contaminated persons, through the fecal-oral route, can spread the infection. The vaccine is a two-dose series given after age one, spaced six months apart, but can and should be given to older kids who have not been vaccinated.
Meningitis, caused by meningococcal bacteria, is rare but extremely serious. It can progress to brain damage, seizures, pneumonia or even death within 24 to 48 hours. Survivors of this disease can lose arms, legs, hearing, and may become seriously disabled. This disease is spread through close personal contact. The current vaccine prevents the most common strains of bacteria that cause the disease. The vaccine is given at 11 to 12 years of age, with a booster at age 16.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is known to cause warts and cervical cancer. The infection often goes unnoticed and may not present itself for several years after infection. The vaccine is most effective if received before any exposure to the virus. HPV vaccine is given to boys and girls 11 to 12 years old (it can be given as early as age 9 and as late as 26) in a three-dose series, over six months.
Today, information is available from multiple sources. Unfortunately, myths, misconceptions and fear surrounding vaccines persist. The fact that vaccines have prevented disease and have saved so many lives may be lost in misinformation. Your priority always should be protecting your family’s health.
Ann S. Taub, MA, RN, CPNP, is a CPNP at Baldwin Harbour Pediatrics, Long Island, NY.